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The government on Thursday said it will not set a date for another round of normalization talks with North Korea unless the reclusive state indicates when the family members of five Japanese abducted decades ago and currently on their first homecoming can also come to Japan.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a news conference that Pyongyang must state by what date it will allow the offspring of the abductees, and the American husband of one of the returnees, to come to Japan as a prerequisite for Tokyo to agree to the next ambassadorial meeting.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed Japan’s determination to continue pressing North Korea about the date but indicated the road ahead may be rocky.

“This is a negotiation, so it will not go easily,” Koizumi told reporters at his official residence. “First of all, it was (previously) unthinkable for the five (abductees) to return to Japan, but they did. I know it will be difficult.”

Abe said the government will also continue putting pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program in bilateral security talks the two sides have agreed to launch this month.

North Korea “must respond to these issues,” Abe said, referring to the arms program and Tokyo’s demand that Pyongyang provide proof to verify its earlier claim that eight of the 13 Japanese it says it abducted or lured to North Korea have died.

Japan and North Korea held the 12th round of ambassadorial negotiations aimed at normalizing relations Tuesday and Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, resuming a dialogue that had been suspended for two years.

In the talks, North Korea rejected the demand that the families of the five returnees be allowed to come to Japan, and in turn demanded that the five return to North Korea, as previously agreed upon by officials of the two governments.

Japan’s chief delegate to the negotiations, Ambassador Katsunari Suzuki, visited Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence to brief him and Kyoko Nakayama, a special adviser to the Cabinet secretariat on the abduction issue, about the just-ended negotiations.

Suzuki expressed his resolve to press North Korea to allow the abductees’ families to come to Japan and to seek in the security talks a pledge by Pyongyang to halt its nuclear arms and missile programs and spy ship operations, government officials said.

Tokyo meanwhile plans to reinforce contact with North Korea through various channels in an effort to bring the five surviving abductees’ families to Japan as well as to get more information from the North about the abduction issue, government sources said.

Explanations and data given by North Korea, particularly regarding those who it claims died after being brought to the country, have generated more questions.

In addition to working-level consultations such as those held on the sidelines of the normalization talks in Kuala Lumpur, the government is also exploring contacts through informal channels maintained by the Foreign Ministry, the sources said.

The government is also considering sending a second fact-finding mission to North Korea on the abduction issue, following one sent from late September to early October, they said.

The government has decided to have the five, who returned to Japan on Oct. 15 for a homecoming visit of up to two weeks, stay permanently — an act North Korea said is in breach of an agreement it had with Japan.

Later in the day, Fukuda dismissed reports of a plan to reunite the five abductees with their families in a third country.

“I don’t believe the government is studying such a plan,” Fukuda said. “Our position to seek the return of their children (to Japan) has not changed.”

Two members of North Korea’s Red Cross Society who accompanied the five abductees to Japan have meanwhile extended their stay in Tokyo because they reportedly intend to return to North Korea with the five.

The two applied to the Justice Ministry on Tuesday for a 15-day extension of their stay because they had initially been permitted to be in Japan only until Wednesday, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The five returnees — Yasushi Chimura and his wife, Fukie, both 47, from Fukui Prefecture; Kaoru Hasuike, 45, and his wife, Yukiko, 46, from Niigata Prefecture; and Soga, 43 — were abducted in 1978.

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