Japan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) yesterday wrapped up two days of talks on establishing diplomatic relations without visible progress in disputes over key issues that have hampered efforts to improve bilateral ties.
But the World War II foes agreed to meet again and strive to normalize diplomatic relations.
The talks in the Mongolian capital kicked off with guarded optimism, after Washington and Pyongyang appeared to move forward in similar discussions at the weekend.
But the Japanese and DPRK envoys failed to score a breakthrough in the thorny row over the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by DPRK agents decades ago - the resolution of which Tokyo has made a condition of normalizing ties.
Japan's chief negotiator, Yoshiki Mine, said the DPRK had refused to take action to resolve the abduction row.
"We had in-depth and lengthy discussions on the abduction issue in the morning," Mine said. "We stressed that it is indispensable for us to normalize diplomatic relations after resolving the abduction issue. We urged the North Korean (DPRK) side to take specific action."
A DPRK delegate said his team had repeated Pyongyang's position that the case on abductions was closed.
"The relations between Japan and North Korea (DPRK) are at the worst level now," DPRK delegate Kim Chol-ho told reporters after the talks.
But he said Pyongyang was ready for more talks with Tokyo.
"We think that the meeting was held in a very serious atmosphere and both sides reaffirmed their commitments to previous agreements," Kim said. "We need to meet more often."
Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that its agents had abducted 13 Japanese, sparking outrage in Japan.
Five of them were repatriated that same year, but Pyongyang says the other eight are dead. Tokyo wants more information about the eight and four others it says were also kidnapped, and wants any survivors sent home.
The bilateral talks are one of the building blocks in a six-party process also involving the United States, China, the Republic of Korea and Russia, aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons.
During the talks in Ulan Bator, the DPRK demanded that Japan make compensation for its often-brutal colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
"Although pending issues have not been resolved through the two days of talks, I believe it was meaningful to have been able to exchange views thoroughly," Mine said.
Tokyo would consider setting up a committee to look into compensation if Pyongyang agreed to reopen the kidnapping investigation.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed disappointment with the lack of progress over the abduction issue.
"The abduction issue is very important. Therefore, unless there is progress on this issue, we cannot say we have achieved anything even if we are simply discussing it," Abe told reporters.
Japan paid hundreds of millions of dollars under a 1965 agreement normalizing relations with the Republic of Korea. Analysts say an equivalent sum was likely to be required to establish ties with the DPRK.
But making such a payment would be politically difficult while the fate of the abductees remains unclear.
(China Daily via agencies September 7 2007)