The government plans to identify a sunken ship it is trying to salvage, which was suspected of being a North Korean spy ship, about a week after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Sept. 17 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Tuesday.

But the plan to identify the vessel on or around Sept. 24 is not timed to avoid marring Koizumi’s historic meeting with Kim in Pyongyang, the top government spokesman said.

The ship, which sank in the East China Sea after exchanging fire with Japan Coast Guard vessels in December, will be raised Sept. 11 at the earliest if weather permits, according to the government plan.

But it is expected to take at least 11 days to bring the ship to port after it is raised from 90 meters below the surface.

Identification of the ship will thus probably take place around Sept. 24, a week after Koizumi meets with Kim — the first Tokyo-Pyongyang summit ever.

“Typhoons are the only reason why identifying the ship is expected to take place later this month,” Fukuda told a regular news conference. “There are no political considerations.”

A typhoon is expected to pass the site, some 390 km off Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, later this week. Another typhoon is also approaching.

Commenting on the salvage, Chikage Ogi, who heads the Japan Coast Guard as minister of land, infrastructure and transport, said that the coast guard will continue the work as scheduled and will not be affected by any politics involving the planned summit.

“(The work) will not be linked with the (prime minister’s) visit to North Korea in any way,” she told a regular news conference.

Regarding the upcoming summit, Fukuda indicated that a liaison office the government has established in Pyongyang for arranging the meeting may remain intact even after the meeting ends. But a Foreign Ministry official said later in the day that the office would probably be closed immediately after the summit.

As Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic relations, Tokyo has had no representatives in Pyongyang. If bilateral normalization talks develop, the need for a liaison office will increase.

The liaison office, consisting of seven members each from the Defense Agency and the Foreign Ministry, was launched to initially verify the route of the government plane that will carry the prime minister to North Korea and to deal with other preparations in the leadup to the summit.

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