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Japan and North Korea held a second round of normalization talks under the framework of the six-party talks last week in Ulan Bator. Compared with the first round held in March, in which the North Korean delegation left the table halfway through the first day, the latest round was a much quieter affair. Although the meeting did not produce substantive results, the fact that both parties agreed to meet more often was promising.

Japan maintained a position that normalization of bilateral relations is impossible unless the issue of abducted Japanese nationals by North Korean agents is resolved. But it declared that it will sincerely deal with the issue of atoning for its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea said that it saw progress. While not making concessions on the abduction issue, the North refrained from its usual claim that the issue had already been resolved. It also agreed that the issue could be discussed if a trustworthy relationship is established between the two countries.

Japan does not want its hardline approach to North Korea to isolate itself in the six-party talks. The North, which wants to be removed from the United States’ list of terrorism-sponsoring states, does not want its intransigence toward Japan to harden Washington’s attitude toward it.

North Korea should realize that failure to cooperate on the abduction issue could delay its removal from the U.S.’ list as well prevent it from receiving aid from Japan. Japan, however, should not rule out the possibility that North Korea’s cooperation in disabling “all their nuclear programs” may already be enough for the U.S. to remove it from the list. To achieve the denuclearization of North Korea and a solution to the abduction issue, Japan must persevere and strive to exercise creative diplomacy in the talks.

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