Hitoshi Tanaka’s contacts to be used for N. Korea talks

LEAD: Hitoshi Tanaka’s contacts to be used for N. Korea talks

TOKYO, Dec. 6 Kyodo

(EDS: ADDING INFO, 4TH-6TH PARAS)

The Japanese government is likely to keep using the back-channel contacts Hitoshi Tanaka, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, maintains with North Korea even after he is promoted to deputy foreign minister, a top Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

”Our country must cherish channels that are based on trustful relations,” the official said, indicating the ministry’s hope of using Tanaka’s contacts in an effort to unlock the stalled talks on normalization of bilateral diplomatic relations.

Tanaka, who has been engaged in Japan-North Korea normalization talks, is expected to become deputy foreign minister in charge of political affairs when the incumbent, Toshiyuki Takano, is appointed as Japanese ambassador to South Korea.

Some senior government officials have argued that Tanaka should be removed from the normalization talks, on grounds that he gives priority to his back-door channels in Pyongyang and ignores the plight of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea.

They were particularly upset when Tanaka insisted the five abductees who returned to Japan on Oct. 15 should be allowed to return to North Korea in line with a previous agreement with Pyongyang.

The government decided on Oct. 24 to keep them in Japan and North Korea accused Japan of breaking the promise.

Mitoji Yabunaka, the current No. 2 man at the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, is expected to take over Tanaka’s position as head of the bureau.

Yabunaka was a member of the Foreign Ministry delegation to the Japan-North Korea normalization talks held in Kuala Lumpur in late October.

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