November 1, 2005

Japan, N.Korea spar ahead of talks

By Teruaki Ueno

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and North Korea begin their first
full-fledged talks in more than three years on Thursday seeking
to resolve long-standing disputes that have blocked the Asian
neighbors from establishing diplomatic ties.

But even before they sit down at the negotiating table in
Beijing, the former bitter enemies sparred over the issue of
Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago, the main
sticking point in their talks.

The talks between foreign ministry officials from the two
countries come after North Korea agreed in principle in
September to dismantle its nuclear arms programmes in exchange
for aid and better ties with Washington and Tokyo.

The Beijing meetings are expected to last at least two days
and will be the first comprehensive talks between Japan and
North Korea since October 2002, when the two sides met in Kuala
Lumpur, officials and analysts said.

A failure to improve ties could hamper the six-party
process on North Korea's nuclear arms programmes because Tokyo
is reluctant to give large-scale aid to Pyongyang in return for
abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

The next round of six-party talks among North and South
Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States is likely to
take place next week.

Tokyo has offered full-scale financial aid to impoverished
North Korea, but only after diplomatic ties are established.

"As long as negotiations between Japan and North Korea are
stalled, it is difficult for the six-party talks on the North
Korea nuclear issue to move forward," said Hajime Izumi, a
Korea expert at the University of Shizuoka near Tokyo.

"If North Korea is to receive everything it wants, it will
have to improve ties with Japan and the United States."

Japanese officials said Tokyo would press for progress on
the emotional abduction issue and would try to win a firm
pledge from Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear arms and missile

The two countries' representatives sparred over the
abduction issue at the United Nations in New York on Monday,
when Japanese ambassador Kenzo Oshima accused Pyongyang of
failing to explain the situation.

North Korea's envoy reacted angrily.

"We did our best so far," said Kim Chang Guk, North Korean
deputy permanent representative. "But on your part, Japan, so
far we did not see any real intention or willingness to
peacefully resolve the issues."


At this week's talks, North Korea is expected to press for
settlement of issues stemming from Japan's harsh 35-year
colonial rule of the Korean peninsula until 1945.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized for Tokyo's
actions at a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim
Jong-il in September 2002, but he rejected demands for

Instead, the two leaders agreed to discuss Japanese aid for
Pyongyang later. Japan gave South Korea $500 million when the
two countries normalized ties in 1965, and some analysts have
said Tokyo could provide up to $10 billion to the impoverished

Japanese officials said Tokyo would use the Beijing talks
to press Pyongyang to resolve the thorny issue of Japanese
citizens it kidnapped from Japan in the 1970s and 1980s to
train spies.

The feud over the kidnappings, the main obstacle to
normalizing ties, intensified after DNA tests showed that bones
handed over to Japanese diplomats a year ago were not those of
Japanese abductees, as North Korea had claimed.

North Korea has admitted abducting 13 people, five of whom
have returned to Japan with their children. Pyongyang says the
other eight are dead.

But Japan has been pressing for further information on the
eight and another three who Tokyo says were also kidnapped.

North Korea says the matter is closed, but during a
bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the last round of
six-party talks in September it told Japan it was considering
demands on the issue.

Nobutaka Machimura, who was replaced as Japan's foreign
minister in cabinet reshuffle on Monday, said last week that
Tokyo would use "dialogue and pressure" to persuade North Korea
to resolve the abduction issue.

"The abduction issue is a major theme for Japan, and Japan
cannot handle possible economic assistance and energy aid for
North Korea unless there is progress over the issue," Machimura
told South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon last week.

Relatives of the abductees and their political supporters
want Japan to harden its stance and impose economic sanctions
on North Korea to force the reclusive communist state to shed
more light on the abductees.

Pyongyang has warned that any imposition of sanctions by
Japan would be tantamount to a declaration of war.