• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sunday reached out to an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, evidently in the hope that the aide can help Japan and North Korea normalize ties.

Koizumi met with aide Konstantin Pulikovskii, a rare person in that he is relatively close to both Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in Khabarovsk on the last day of his four-day trip to Russia.

The prime minister was quoted by a Japanese official as telling Putin’s representative for federal affairs in the Russian Far East that Japan cannot normalize ties with North Korea unless the Pyongyang’s nuclear issues are settled.

Mentioning Pulikovskii’s close ties to Kim, Koizumi indirectly called for his help in Japan’s efforts to normalize ties with North Korea. He said that if relations are indeed normalized, the region covering Japan, Russia and North and South Korea could become “an important economic zone.”

Pulikovskii described the ongoing energy shortage in the North as “a catastrophe.” He told Koizumi that if the energy crisis is settled, global concerns about the North’s nuclear weapons development can be abated.

But contrary to earlier rumors, the official said Koizumi did not make any specific requests to Pulikovskii with regard to achieving a breakthrough, nor did he ask the Russian official to relay any messages to Kim.

There has been speculation that Koizumi might seek to gain insight into how to restart stalled talks with North Korea through a meeting with Pulikovskii. The aide accompanied Kim when he visited Russia in the summer of 2001, and Kim has since invited Pulikovskii to Pyongyang several times.

Calling the North Korean leader a man of “common sense,” Pulikovskii said Kim seems ready to negotiate with foreign countries bilaterally and multilaterally as long as North Korea is approached as an equally positioned partner.

The news conference was held shortly before Koizumi was scheduled to leave Khabarovsk for Tokyo. The prime minister said he wants Japan and Russia to resolve their long-standing territorial disputes and conclude a post-World War II peace treaty “as soon as possible.” But he stopped short of giving a timetable for the goal.

Koizumi told Pulikovskii that Japan understands the importance of bilateral cooperation, especially on energy projects in the Russian Far East.

In reference to developing the region, Koizumi emphasized the need to promote cooperation on a plan to build a Siberia-Pacific Ocean crude-oil pipeline, the official said.

Pulikovskii expressed dissatisfaction with a lack of interest in the region shown by Japanese businesses. He said he hopes Koizumi’s visit will boost relations between Japan and the Russian Far East, the official said.

At the news conference Koizumi said, “We must steadily continue to tell North Korea using various opportunities that it is most beneficial for North Korea to resolve the issue peacefully.”

Earlier in the day, Koizumi also met with Viktor Ishaev, governor of Khabarovsk Territory.

Koizumi is the third Japanese prime minister to officially visit Russia since Japan and the Soviet Union normalized diplomatic ties in 1956 and the first ever to visit the Russian Far East.

The prime minister was quoted as saying he visited Pyongyang on Sept. 17 last year to meet with Kim in an effort to normalize relations with North Korea.

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