• Kyodo

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North Korea told Japan on Saturday that it will respond to Tokyo’s request for early bilateral talks on issues including the North’s abduction of Japanese “through an appropriate route,” Japan’s chief negotiator said.

Mitoji Yabunaka, head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, said North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan responded to his request to schedule the next bilateral meeting promptly.

“We were not able to gain a positive reaction from North Korea in the bilateral contacts this time, but since we have agreed to continue governmental talks, we want to further exert our efforts toward a resolution” of outstanding issues, he told a press conference.

Yabunaka and Kim talked for about 10 minutes after Saturday’s closing ceremony for the six-party conference on the North’s nuclear ambitions in their fourth bilateral contact, Japanese officials said.

In the course of their discussions on the sidelines of the conference, Japan requested that the next talks be held in mid or late March, according to diplomatic sources.

On Saturday, Yabunaka emphasized to Kim the importance of the abduction issue, and North Korea’s top delegate said the two countries will continue discussions based on the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration aimed at improving bilateral ties, the officials said.

Yabunaka also said in his news conference that Japan was able to gain understanding from the other countries involved in the six-party talks — China, Russia, South Korea and the United States — about the importance of resolving issues between Tokyo and Pyongyang.

The Japanese diplomat said in his remarks during the closing ceremony of the conference that Japan wants to resolve outstanding issues between Japan and North Korea by continuing dialogue.

Japan to stay in talks

Staff report Japan will remain involved in six-nation talks to peacefully defuse the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, despite a lack of a breakthrough during four-day talks in Beijing, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Saturday.

“My understanding is that we haven’t agreed on a specific direction for a solution to the nuclear problem,” Fukuda said at a news conference at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence following a town meeting with members of the public.

On the question of the abduction of Japanese nationals, Fukuda said in a statement later in the day that the government “strongly urges” North Korea to respond to Japan’s request for the families of the repatriated abductees to be unconditionally allowed to travel to Japan.

He also said Japan is continuing to ask Pyongyang to disclose information about other missing Japanese.

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