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Friday, Nov. 23, 2012


Step forward with North Korea

Japan and North Korea held talks at the level of foreign ministry bureau chiefs in Ulan Bator on Nov. 15 and 16. Both sides agreed to continue talks on the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals carried out by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

Since North Korea has held the position that the issue has already been solved, the agreement is a step forward. Tokyo needs to pursue talks with Pyongyang with perseverance and ingenuity.

The talks followed bilateral talks in August in Beijing among foreign ministry section chiefs. The Beijing talks represented the first government-level talks between the two countries since the August 2008 talks, in which both sides agreed to set up a joint committee to investigate the abduction issue in exchange for Tokyo's lifting some of its economic sanctions against Pyongyang. The North later broke this agreement.

Japan should continue to make specific demands including that Pyongyang begin to investigate the fate of Japanese abductees.

It is noteworthy that, in the Ulan Bator talks, both sides agreed to resume the talks at the foreign ministry bureau chief level at an early date. They also agreed to cooperate in the collection of remains of Japanese who died immediately after World War II in areas of the Korean Peninsula that are now part of North Korea and to deepen discussions on North Korea's programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles.

Japan must make utmost efforts to keep the talks going with North Korea among foreign ministry bureau chiefs.

It appears that North Korea desires to continue talks with Japan even if Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is replaced by a new prime minister. Tokyo must seriously consider how to produce constructive results from these talks.

North Korea also took up "settlement of past issues," which includes thorny subjects such as Japan's colonial rule over Korea. Japan and North Korea should reconfirm the September 2002 Pyongyang Declaration issued jointly by then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

In it, Japan apologized for its past colonial rule over Korea and promised to provide economic assistance to North Korea if diplomatic relations were normalized. Mr. Kim apologized for the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents.

Next year, there could be new developments in North Korea's relations with the United States, China and South Korea, because of the assumption of new leaders in China and South Korea, and the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama.

As Japan's sanctions against North Korea have not worked, it should consider new approaches for moving its ties with North Korea forward, based on the Pyongyang Declaration.

North Korea, for its part, should consider whether its heavy political and economic reliance on China is really good for the country. It also should abandon its position that the abduction issue has been resolved.

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