North Korea and Japan end talks

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North Korea and Japan end talks

Japan and North Korea entered the final day of their first high-level talks in more than a year yesterday in Beijing, without making much headway on outstanding bilateral issues.

The government talks are the first between the two countries since November 2012, and kicked off Sunday despite North Korea’s firing last week of two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles into the East Sea, an act that was condemned by member states on the UN Security Council, according to Japanese officials.

The head of the North Korean delegation, Song Il-ho, the top envoy handling relations with Japan, and his Japanese counterpart, Junichi Ihara, the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s chief of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, called on Sunday for “sincere and frank discussions.”

However, the two sides had difficulty setting an agenda and did not make much of a breakthrough on the first day on the issue of abducted Japanese nationals, a key point of contention for Tokyo.

Ihara told reporters yesterday after talks that he lodged a protest against Pyongyang’s launch of the Rodong missiles last week, as well as on the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s statement on Sunday claiming it will carry out a “new form” of nuclear testing.

“North Korea did not refuse the idea of discussing the abductee issue truthfully and sincerely,” he added. “But we have agreed to continue talks [on the issue] in the future, and specific details cannot be revealed.”

Japanese officials are said to have requested a reinvestigation into the decades-old issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals during the 1970s. Tokyo and Pyongyang have stood at a stalemate on the issue since North Korea admitted in 2003 to having abducted 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, returning just five of them.

It is alleged that the rest have died, but Japan believes there may still be more abductees alive in the North.

North Korea was also expected yesterday to bring up the easing of sanctions, which Japan imposed on the country in a bid to persuade Pyongyang to curb its nuclear and missile development programs.

The two sides held their second day of talks at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, after holding discussions at the North Korean Embassy there the previous day. The resumption of bilateral governmental talks comes about after two rounds of informal talks between Red Cross and foreign ministry officials of both countries in Shenyang, northeastern China, earlier in March.

In mid-March, North Korea agreed to let the parents of a Japanese abductee, Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped in 1977, meet with their granddaughter for the first time in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

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


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