North Korean leader Kim Jong Il expressed Saturday his willingness to normalize diplomatic relations with Japan, saying, “A new page in history” must be opened in bilateral ties.

He described the upcoming visit to Pyongyang by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi as an important chance to achieve that goal.

In a written interview with Kyodo News, Kim said he would be willing to visit Japan when bilateral relations improve. He reiterated, however, that Japan must first apologize and compensate for its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

“It is the historic mission for the two countries’ politicians of today to normalize relations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Japan,” Kim said.

He added that Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang on Tuesday would serve as an “epoch-making chance” to normalize relations.

“I welcome Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to the DPRK, and believe that our meeting and talks will bring about good results,” he said. “We must, with our joint will and efforts aimed at improving relations between the DPRK and Japan, open a new page in the history of bilateral relations.”

Asked about his willingness to visit Japan, Kim said, “There would be no reason to prevent me from visiting Japan if relations between the two countries normalize and develop in a favorable manner.”

But he also repeated North Korea’s demand for an apology and compensation from Japan.

“In order to liquidate the past, (Japan must) apologize sincerely by giving thorough consideration to all the suffering and damage it inflicted on the Korean people, and the issue of compensation must also be correctly resolved,” he said.

Koizumi optimistic

NEW YORK (Kyodo) Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Friday he anticipates progress in his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on the issue of Japanese allegations that at least 11 Japanese nationals were abducted by the North.

Koizumi voiced his hopes at a news conference in New York at the end of his five-day trip to the United States.

“North Korea said it will talk with us,” Koizumi said. “Therefore, any sincere measures will be taken up (during the meeting with Kim), and they must be taken.”

Koizumi will make a one-day trip to Pyongyang on Tuesday for the summit.

Tokyo has said that settling the abduction allegations is imperative before talks on normalizing diplomatic ties can be resumed.

Japan alleges that North Korea abducted at least 11 Japanese nationals, apparently for espionage-related activities, between 1977 and 1983.

“If we can see Pyongyang taking positive action to change Tokyo-Pyongyang ties, which are now hostile, into ones that are cooperative, we will be able to call the meeting a success,” Koizumi said.

It will be the first time a Japanese prime minister has visited North Korea.

Koizumi also emphasized that when Pyongyang threatens South Korea it is threatening Japan and the U.S. as well.

Accordingly, he emphasized the importance of a close, three-way alliance with South Korea and the United States in dealing with issues related to North Korea.

“I’ll deal with (unresolved issues related to) North Korea by closely cooperating with Seoul and Washington,” Koizumi told reporters.

U.S. President George W. Bush had earlier told Koizumi that he is concerned about security on the Korean Peninsula, and Koizumi promised that he would take up security issues during his summit with Kim.

The security issue that has sparked international concern chiefly involves North Korea’s alleged possession and development of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, as well as huge conventional forces massed along the border with South Korea.

Koizumi urged Pyongyang to cut its conventional forces, saying, “It should not be negotiating with the South while it is pointing a gun at its head.”

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