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Soga reunion may open door to fresh normalization talks

Japan might be able to resume normalization talks with North Korea this month now that they have organized a family reunion for repatriated abductee Hitomi Soga, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.

Later this month, the government also hopes to approve the provision of 250,000 tons of food aid and medical supplies for North Korea, as promised by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during his May 22 visit to Pyongyang, the official said.

The official said these developments will probably create momentum for resuming normalization talks, which have been stalled since October 2002.

The government has also called on North Korea to provide the results of its fresh investigation into 10 missing Japanese.

North Korea has said the 10 have either died since being abducted or had never entered the country. In May, Pyongyang leader Kim Jong Il promised Koizumi that his government would again look into what happened to them.

If North Korea provided Japan with the reports, it would add further momentum for resuming the normalization talks, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The reunion of Soga and her American husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, and their two daughters has been a key pending issue between the two countries. The reunion is scheduled to take place Friday in Jakarta.

Jenkins, who is listed as a U.S. Army deserter, has refused to travel to Japan out of fear that he would be handed over to the U.S. to be court-martialed.

Another Foreign Ministry official said it is unclear how Japan could persuade Jenkins and the daughters to come to Japan. They reportedly enjoy privileged status in Pyongyang.

“We hope that the emotional reunion will ease their feelings,” said the official, who also asked not to be named. “We will go one step at a time.”

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