2ND LD: Japan diplomats meet with key aide to N. Korea’s Kim

2ND LD: Japan diplomats meet with key aide to N. Korea’s Kim

TOKYO, Feb. 13 Kyodo

(EDS: ADDING MORE INFO, COMMENTS)

Senior Japanese diplomats visiting Pyongyang for negotiations on North Korea’s abductions of Japanese citizens met Friday morning with a key diplomatic aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il who is known for handling such issues as the abductions and the North’s nuclear ambitions, the Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry said the diplomats, who arrived Wednesday in Pyongyang, held talks with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju for about two hours in the morning.

The ministry, however, did not provide details on the talks, only saying the two sides stated their stances.

Kang, a close aide to Kim, has been involved in key diplomatic events, such as efforts to realize a summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Kim in Pyongyang in September 2002. Kang sat next to Kim during the summit.

The Japanese team is expected to have explained Japan’s basic stance that stalled bilateral normalization talks may be resumed if North Korea meets Japan’s demands that it allow the kin of five former Japanese abductees to come to Japan.

Koizumi told reporters that he will be briefed on the meeting probably Sunday after the Japanese team returns Saturday.

Diplomatic analysts said Kang may have made new proposals to advance the abduction issue.

But government officials said it is premature to say Kang’s appearance will immediately lead to a breakthrough.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said in the afternoon that it is difficult for him to make an assessment on the meeting because he is not aware of the details.

Asked about the significance of Kang’s meeting with the Japanese team, a senior Foreign Ministry official also said, ”I will not make an assessment until I am briefed on the meeting.”

He said it is unclear whether Kang took a positive or negative stance toward the abduction issue.

Japan sent five diplomats in charge of North Korean affairs, including Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka and Mitoji Yabunaka, head of the ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, to Pyongyang in a bid to make progress on the abduction issue as well as on the issue of the North’s nuclear ambitions.

They held talks with Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il on Wednesday and Thursday.

During the talks the previous two days, the Japanese team urged North Korea to allow the family members of the five Japanese abductees to come to Japan without attaching any conditions.

The five returned to Japan in October 2002 and are among 13 Japanese nationals whom North Korea admitted during the 2002 summit that it abducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

North Korea claimed the remaining eight have died.

The Japanese diplomats also asked the North’s vice foreign minister to provide convincing accounts of the fates of the eight abductees, as well as two other people recognized by the Japanese government as victims of abduction by the North.

Fukuda said it is difficult to fully resolve the abduction issue at the ongoing round of bilateral talks, and it is necessary to establish a framework to continue dialogue.

He also said the Japanese diplomats will not stay for further negotiations beyond their scheduled return Saturday.

Japan intends to resume normalization talks with North Korea if it accepts Japan’s demands on the kin of the five repatriated abductees.

”We want to realize (such family reunions) by the time we resume talks to normalize ties,” Fukuda said at a news conference.

Fukuda repeated there is no change to Japan’s basic stance on the abduction issue, saying, ”Our top priority is to see the kin of the five (abductees) come to Japan soon.”

Japanese government sources said North Korea is unlikely to meet Japan’s demand immediately.

Japan and North Korea held their last talks on normalizing ties in October 2002. They have not managed to restart them due to the deep divide over the abduction issue.

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