April 4, 2006

Top N.Korea official likely to visit Japan: report

TOKYO (Reuters) - North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim
Kye-gwan, a close aide to leader Kim Jong-il, is preparing to
visit Japan to attend a private forum next week, Kyodo news
agency reported on Wednesday.

In a dispatch from Beijing, Kyodo said Kim Kye-gwan was
preparing to visit Japan and the Japanese government was
examining his plan.

Quoting Japanese government officials in Beijing, Kyodo
said Kim Kye-gwan and Han Song-ryol, North Korea's envoy to the
United Nations, had submitted requests to visit Japan.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official declined to comment.

Kim Kye-gwan headed North Korea's delegation to six-party
talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

Diplomatic sources in Tokyo said on Tuesday that a
different North Korean Foreign Ministry official was expected
to arrive in Tokyo later this week to take part in a private
forum on security issues due to open on Sunday.

U.S. chief negotiator Christopher Hill is expected to
arrive in Tokyo on Monday for talks with his counterparts from
Japan and South Korea, a U.S. embassy spokesman said on

The report comes amid efforts to resume stalled six-party
talks on ending the reclusive communist state's nuclear arms

The sources in Tokyo said researchers, academics and
government officials from Japan, the United States, China,
Russia and other countries are expected to take part in the
Tokyo forum.

The six countries in the nuclear talks -- the two Koreas,
the United States, China, Japan and Russia -- agreed in
principle in September that the North would dismantle its
nuclear programs in exchange for aid and better diplomatic
ties. But their latest session in November ended without

North Korea has said it would be unthinkable to return to
the nuclear talks while Washington is trying to topple its
leaders through action against Pyongyang's alleged
counterfeiting, drug trafficking and money laundering. North
Korea has denied involvement in any illegal activities.

The possible trip to Japan by the North Korean officials
comes amid growing calls by politicians and activists in Japan
to punish Pyongyang for refusing to resolve a row over Japanese
nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970 and 1980s
to train spies.

Japan and North Korea held talks in Beijing in February on
normalizing diplomatic ties but made no progress.

North Korea has admitted abducting 13 people, eight of whom
it says are dead. The other five were repatriated in 2002, and
Pyongyang insists the abductee issue is now settled.

Tokyo wants more information about the eight, however, and
on three others it says were also kidnapped.

Japan has said it will not normalize ties with North Korea
unless the abduction issue is resolved. Pyongyang has said the
matter is already closed.