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
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
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)