Japan, N. Korea to hold talks in Hanoi March 7-8

TOKYO, Reuters

Japan will hold talks with North Korea on normalizing ties next week, and it plans to take up the dispute over citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang’s agents decades ago, Japan said on Wednesday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said the meeting, part of an agreement reached at the last round of six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis, will be held on March 7 and 8 in Hanoi.

Japan has said it will not give economic assistance to North Korea or establish diplomatic relations unless the feud over the abductees — an emotive one for many Japanese — is somehow resolved.

“We will demand that North Korea take up the issue and make concrete progress on the abduction issue,” Shiozaki told a news conference.

“There is no change in our position that there will be no normalizing of ties without a resolution of the abduction issue.”

Japan is pressing for more information about those abducted in the 1970s and the 1980s, but North Korea says the matter is closed.

Under the deal reached at this month’s six-party talks, North Korea would receive energy aid in exchange for closing a nuclear reactor, but Japan has refused to pitch in, a decision analysts and some ruling party lawmakers say could leave Tokyo isolated.

But Shiozaki said Japan’s stance depended on how North Korea would deal with the abduction issue.

“We are prepared to make efforts for normalizing ties and to make further contribution at the six-party talks in line with any progress,” he said.

The six-party agreement requires Pyongyang to close its Yongbyon reactor within 60 days in exchange for 50,000 tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid, and another 950,000 tons or the equivalent will be offered when North Korea takes further steps to disable its nuclear capabilities.

The six-party framework brings together the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

Japan was a big contributor to a 1994 multilateral agreement, which later collapsed, under which North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for energy assistance.

But in 2002, North Korea outraged many ordinary Japanese by admitting that Pyongyang had kidnapped Japanese nationals from their homeland to help train its spies in language and culture.

Five were repatriated with their North Korea-born children and Pyongyang says eight others are dead.

Japan is demanding better information about the eight and another three Tokyo says were also kidnapped, and wants any survivors sent home.

The Hanoi meeting would be the first such talks since February last year, when Japanese and North Korean officials failed to make any substantial progress.