Tokyo and Pyongyang have agreed to resume bilateral talks — stalled since last November — to resolve various issues, including the abductions of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said Tuesday.

North Korea’s nuclear threat, however, may not be among the issues, as Pyongyang, in an apparent flip-flop from a vow made Monday to abandon its atomic weapons quest, said Tuesday it will pursue them until it is given a light-water reactor.

The date, venue and level of the bilateral dialogue will be decided through diplomatic channels, but Tokyo seeks to resume talks as soon as possible, Machimura told a hastily arranged news conference.

“We will resume talks and comprehensively resolve the issues of (North Korea’s) nuclear (arms) program, missile program and the abductions based on the Pyongyang Declaration,” he figured. “Then we will atone for the unfortunate past and normalize relations.”

Later in the day, Kenichiro Sasae, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told relatives of the abductees that Tokyo hopes to hold the bilateral parley before the next round of six-way talks, which are expected to convene in early November.

Much of the public’s attention Tuesday was focused, however, on North Korea’s remark earlier in the day that Pyongyang would not discuss abandoning its “nuclear deterrence” program unless it first received a light-water nuclear reactor.

According to a joint statement issued Monday, China, Russia, South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed to discuss giving North Korea a light-water nuclear reactor “at an appropriate time.”

Machimura told a separate briefing Tuesday morning that Japan, the U.S. and South Korea have said the five parties would enter into talks on a light-water reactor only after Pyongyang abandoned its nuclear arms program and returned to the Nonproliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

Noriyuki Suzuki, director of Radiopress, a Tokyo news agency that monitors North Korean reports, said Pyongyang’s message made it clear it would not meet those conditions unless the other parties promised in a legally binding document to provide the light-water reactor.

“North Korea wants to find out how other nations will respond to its remarks,” Suzuki said. “North Korea’s stance will not receive support from the five other members of the six-party talks.”

The key aim of the next round of the six-party talks will be to iron out the details of the joint statement. They will include the timetable for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arms program, how and when the North will have nuclear inspections, the timing of its return to the NPT, and when talks on the light-water reactor will begin, Suzuki said.

He said North Korea needed to freeze its nuclear quest before the next talks so the parties could take their time discussing what might end up being a long process of sweating the agreement details.

Tokyo and Pyongyang reached their separate agreement to resume bilateral talks during two-way dialogue Sunday in Beijing on the sidelines of the six-party talks, Machimura said.

“Through bilateral dialogue (in Beijing), I think North Korea felt the need to resolve various issues with Japan,” he reckoned.

In Monday’s joint statement by the six nations, Japan and North Korea agreed to take steps to normalize relations in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration, signed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a historic summit in September 2002 in Pyongyang.

Bilateral talks have been deadlocked since Japan announced in December that remains the North claimed were of abductee Megumi Yokota were not hers.

North Korean officials gave the remains to a Japanese delegation during bilateral negotiations held in November in Pyongyang.

Yokota was abducted to North Korea in 1977 at age 13. Pyongyang has claimed she killed herself in 1994, but Japan is unconvinced.

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