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Tokyo and Pyongyang to Meet in Mongolia
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Japan and North Korea will hold talks on establishing diplomatic relations next week in Ulan Bator, Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said yesterday.

The two-day talks from September 5 will be held as part of a six-country deal to scrap Pyongyang's nuclear arms programs in exchange for aid and diplomatic recognition.

The Asian neighbors held similar talks in March in Hanoi, but they stalled mainly over the simmering feud over Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents decades ago.

The issue of the abductees, spirited away from their homeland in the 1970s and 1980s to help train North Korean spies in Japanese language and culture, is an emotive one in Japan and a major stumbling block towards forging diplomatic ties.

Japan says it will not give full-scale economic assistance to North Korea or establish diplomatic ties unless the abduction issue is resolved.

A failure to improve ties could hinder a six-party agreement, involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, because Tokyo is reluctant to give large-scale aid to Pyongyang in return for abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

Japan established diplomatic relations with the South in 1965, but it has yet to do so with the North.

Last month, Pyongyang shut its Yongbyon reactor complex that produces weapons-grade plutonium in return for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil under a February 13 six-party deal.

Under "phase two" of that agreement, Pyongyang will get 950,000 more tons of oil in return for "disabling" its atomic facilities and coming clean on its nuclear secrets.

But the last round of nuclear talks ended last month without a target date for that.

Newly-appointed Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said on Monday Tokyo would not provide Pyongyang with energy aid unless "progress" was made in the dispute over the abduction issue.

North Korea 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.

(Xinhua News Agency August 29, 2007)

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