North Korea, Japan remain apart on nucler program, abductees

Thursday, October 31, 2002

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- North Korean and Japanese negotiators ended a contentious round of talks on establishing ties Wednesday, still at odds over the North's nuclear weapons program and the fate of Japanese kidnapped decades ago by the isolated communist nation.

The talks on normalizing relations are the first the Asian rivals have held in two years, and follow an unprecedented summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last month.

But the mood of detente that marked the summit was not apparent here. It was not clear if or when another round of negotiations would be held. The North suggested one be held at the end of November, but Japan had not yet formally accepted the proposal.

Japan insisted the North scrap its nuclear arms program as a precondition to normalization. North Korea refused to budge, saying that can only be accomplished through talks with the United States.

Justifying military

North Korea has long justified efforts to bolster its military by saying it must defend itself against the tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Japan and South Korea.

Japan also seeks the permanent return of five Japanese who were kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s by the North to train its spies in the Japanese. Tokyo wants the five -- the only survivors of 13 Japanese Pyongyang admits abducting -- returned along with their families in the North. Pyongyang has refused.

Japanese delegation leader Katsunari Suzuki said he was disappointed in the North's intransigence. "Unfortunately, we saw no change in the North's position," Suzuki said.

North Korea stressed its desire for economic aid and compensation for Japan's often brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945.

"Japan is complicating the abduction issue due to their distrust of us," North Korean delegate Pak Ryong Yeon said. "The problem will be solved if they send the five back to North Korea as promised. They should create conditions for the families to meet and talk about their futures."

But he said the talks were meaningful because they gave both sides a chance to hear each other out.

"The resumption of these talks after two years is important both to our countries and to the world," he said.

As the talks closed, the two countries managed to agree only on the framework for a planned working-level forum on security issues -- the establishment of which was already agreed to at the Sept. 17 summit. The forum will be created next month.

Along with calling on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons development, Tokyo is also seeking a halt to its deployment of long-range missiles capable of hitting targets anywhere in Japan and as far away as Alaska and Guam. The missiles are believed to be capable of carrying warheads at least as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb.

President Bush discussed North Korea with Koizumi and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Mexico.

The three leaders urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear program "in a prompt and verifiable manner," and pledged to push for a peaceful resolution, Kim said on his return to South Korea Wednesday.

"The agreement doesn't mean that the problem is solved. We have now entered a road to solution," Kim said. He said the "ball is now in North Korea's court."

North Korea has allowed the five adbuctees who are still alive to return to Japan for their first homecoming in a quarter century. But Tokyo announced last week that, although Pyongyang intended the visit to be short, it would not send them back and demanded their families who stayed behind in the North be sent to Japan as soon as possible.

North Korean officials have criticized Japan for overreacting to the abductions, saying they were insignificant when compared to brutalities during Japan's colonial rule.

Japan and North Korea have held normalization talks on and off since 1992. The last round, held in Beijing, broke off after the North angrily denied any role in the abductions.

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