Japan will provide energy aid to North Korea in cooperation with the U.S. and South Korea if substantial progress is made in getting Pyongyang to abandon its alleged nuclear program in upcoming multilateral talks, according to government sources.

But the move is likely to draw criticism and opposition; some lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps believe Japan should not give any aid to North Korea as long as there is no progress in resolving the abduction issue.

The six-party nuclear talks are scheduled to begin Tuesday in Beijing.

While Japan will take up the abduction issue — the major thorn in Japan-North Korea relations — as much as possible at the six-party talks, it would be difficult for Japan to oppose requests from Washington and Seoul to give aid to the North if there is progress on the nuclear issue, a top Foreign Ministry official said.

South Korea offered recently to provide North Korea with 2 million kilowatts of electricity if Pyongyang agrees to abolish its nuclear arms development programs.

The proposal is believed to presume that other countries would provide North Korea with fuel oil until South Korea begins the electricity supply.

During the previous round of six-party talks, held in June 2004, North Korea demanded 2 million kw worth of electricity in exchange for freezing its nuclear programs. Foreign Ministry officials in Tokyo believe South Korea’s proposal will help soften Pyongyang’s stance and make progress at this week’s talks a possibility.

Also, Washington said in the last round of talks that if North Korea commits to a complete abolition of nuclear arms, the U.S. would agree to the provision of fuel oil by the other parties — China, Japan, South Korea and Russia — during a three-month “preparatory period.”

Under such circumstances, Japan would likely have to cooperate in providing the fuel oil assistance while also facing strong public opinion due to the unresolved abduction issue.

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