• Kyodo

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The United States and South Korea on Saturday expressed “strong support” for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s landmark visit to North Korea.

The summit between Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was a key topic in a regular policy consultation meeting in Seoul between senior diplomats from the U.S., South Korea and Japan, according to a joint press statement released at the end of the meeting.

The U.S. and South Korean delegates “expressed their strong support for Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to North Korea, which they hope will contribute to the improvement of Japan-DPRK relations and the promotion of regional stability in Northeast Asia,” the statement said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

On Aug. 30, Japan and North Korea announced that Koizumi will make a one-day visit to Pyongyang on Sept. 17 for a summit with Kim to discuss a range of issues related to establishing diplomatic ties.

Koizumi’s trip to Pyongyang will be the first to the communist country by a Japanese prime minister.

In October 2000, rapprochement talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang were suspended as Tokyo pressed its demands on the issue of the alleged kidnappings of Japanese nationals by North Korea, while Pyongyang demanded compensation for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea.

At the same meeting, known as the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group meeting, the U.S. and South Korean delegates welcomed recent progress in talks between Japan and North Korea.

The South Korean and Japanese sides reiterated their support for the U.S. to resume talks with North Korea to resolve their respective issues of concern.

The U.S. delegation reaffirmed its government’s readiness to conduct “comprehensive and unconditional” talks with North Korea.

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae Sik headed the South Korean delegation while Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly and Director General of Asian and Oceanian Affairs Hitoshi Tanaka led the U.S. and Japanese sides.

The three delegations also reconfirmed their desire to address “through dialogue” issues involving North Korea, including its missile and weapons of mass destruction programs, the statement said.

They called on North Korea to “move forward promptly to begin full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

The U.S. government has raised concerns that North Korea has not begun to allow inspectors from the IAEA to complete all of their required nuclear safeguard inspections at its nuclear sites.

Under a 1994 agreement, North Korea pledged to dismantle its graphite-moderated nuclear reactors suspected of having been used to develop nuclear weapons in return for two light-water reactors being built by an international consortium led by South Korea, Japan and the U.S.

Saturday’s TCOG meeting comes amid a renewal of a range of contacts between North and South Korea.

The U.S. is also widely expected to consider sending Kelly as a special envoy to the North Korean capital to reopen high-level talks with the North later this month.

North Korea has repeatedly said it would welcome a visit by the U.S. special envoy, but Washington has yet to announce any details concerning the proposed trip.

North Korea considers improving ties with the U.S. as key to resuscitating its economy through attracting foreign investment and increased trade.

The U.S. has placed North Korea on its list of states that sponsor international terrorism, banning the North from receiving financial aid from international lending agencies.

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