Japan, North Korea to resume formal gov’t talks

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Japan, North Korea to resume formal gov’t talks

After more than a yearlong gap, Japan and North Korea agreed yesterday to resume formal government talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs as well as North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens more than 30 years ago.

The decision came amid a second round of unofficial talks this month between Pyongyang and Tokyo with Red Cross and government officials in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning Province in China.

The two-day humanitarian meetings kicked off Wednesday and were led by the head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Ho-rim, secretary general of the North’s Red Cross Society, and his Japanese counterpart, Osamu Tasaka, the director general of the International Department at the Japanese Red Cross.

Foreign ministry officials from both countries also attended, including Keiichi Ono, the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s director of the Northeast Asian Division, and Ryu Song-il, head of Japan affairs in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

Tasaka told reporters after seven hours of talks on Wednesday that “there was progress” compared to previous rounds of talks.

After the meeting finished yesterday, Ono told reporters that Pyongyang and Tokyo agreed to resume “formal government-to-government talks,” without elaborating on the date or duration. Further details would be negotiated through their embassies in Beijing, he said.

This follows the first Red Cross talks between the two countries on March 3 in Shenyang, the first since 2012. The last official talks between the two countries date back to November 2012.

This will mark the first formal governmental discussions between Japan and North Korea since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office for his second run as prime minister.

The unofficial meetings shed “some development” on the issue of the repatriation of the remains of the Japanese national who died in the North during World War II.

Japanese media reported the bilateral talks as being senior-level governmental official talks, with the focus likely to be on the Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents from the late 1970s to the early ’80s, and North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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