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N. Korea defies Japan's call for quick report on abductions

North Korea's chief delegate defied Japan's pressure on Monday to quickly produce a preliminary report on the North's probe into the fate of more than a dozen Japanese nationals it has admitted to kidnapping decades ago as the two nations began a fresh round of talks.

Song Il-ho, North Korean ambassador for normalization talks with Japan, started the one-day talks with Junichi Ihara, head of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, at a hotel in Shenyang as Pyongyang has failed to offer the preliminary results of its probe by late this month, a timeline anticipated by the Japanese government.

During the talks, Ihara told Song that about three months have passed since North Korea started the probe, and it is time for the North to quickly announce the preliminary results.

"I think that North Korea should swiftly proceed with a comprehensive and all-out investigation into all Japanese nationals in North Korea and unveil the results of the probe as soon as possible," Ihara said.

Song, however, said the Monday talks were aimed at clarifying each other's stance, rather than offering the results of the probe.

"This meeting is not aimed at reporting the results of activities by the Special Investigation Committee," Song said.

"I hope that this meeting will become a place where both sides clarify each other's stance and exchange information on the current situation."    

North Korea agreed in May to re-investigate the issue of Japanese nationals kidnapped by the North's agents in the 1970s and 1980s. In return, Japan lifted some of its unilateral sanctions imposed on the North over its missile and nuclear programs.

The May agreement between North Korea and Japan was seen as a major breakthrough for relations between the two nations, which have never established diplomatic ties. The abduction issue has long been a key stumbling block to normalizing their relations.

South Korea and the United States reacted cautiously to the deal between North Korea and Japan, with some critics saying it could weaken trilateral cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo against Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

In 2002, North Korea admitted to abducting 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. The North then let five of them return home but said eight others had died, though Japanese officials believe that some of them are still alive. (Yonhap)