N. Korea, Japan start first high-level talks in a year

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 30, 2014 - 21:03
  • Updated : Mar 30, 2014 - 21:03
BEIJING (Yonhap) ― North Korea and Japan resumed their first high-level talks in more than a year on Sunday, with the North’s chief delegate calling for a “candid and serious attitude” for discussions expected to focus on the North’s abduction of more than a dozen Japanese nationals decades ago.

The two-day talks, the first of their kind since November 2012, started at the North Korean Embassy here, led by Song Il-ho, the North Korean ambassador handling relations with Japan, and Junichi Ihara, chief of the Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau at Japan’s foreign ministry.

“As the talks resume after one year and four months, let’s show a candid and sincere attitude in engaging with the talks,” Song said in his opening remarks.

“About one month has passed since spring, when everything comes alive again, came,” Song said. “I think that it is very meaningful for North Korea and Japan to hold talks in a season when flowers bloom and trees come into leaf.”

Ihara, the chief Japanese delegate, said he was “pleased” to resume the talks with North Korea.

“I am willing to make efforts to resolve various pending issues,” Ihara said through a translator, adding that he hopes to discuss “broader issues of concerns in a serious and candid manner.”

Song told reporters on Saturday that no agenda has been set for the Beijing talks, saying it was premature to comment on the progress of the talks before the two sides meet.

North Korea and Japan agreed to resume the government-level talks during their informal gathering in China earlier this month when Red Cross officials of both sides met to discuss the repatriation of the remains of Japanese nationals who died in the North during World War II.

A key pending issue between the two countries is North Korea’s admitted kidnapping of more than a dozen Japanese citizens in the past.

In 2002, North Korea admitted to abducting 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and ’80s. The North then let five of them return home but said eight others died, though Japanese officials believe that some of them are still alive.

One of those Japanese who North Korea claimed to have died is Megumi Yokota, who was abducted in 1977 at the age of 13. Earlier this month, North Korea allowed the parents of Yokota to meet her 26-year-old daughter in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator.

Asked whether North Korea would let Yokota’s daughter visit Japan for a reunion with her family there, the North Korean envoy Song did not answer on Saturday.

The Beijing contact comes as North Korea takes an ambivalent approach to the outside world.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea for test-firing two medium-range ballistic missiles in violation of its ban on such activities.

North Korea and Japan have never had diplomatic ties, and the abduction issue has long been a key stumbling block in normalizing their bilateral relations.