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Saturday, Jan. 28, 2006

Three-prong North Korea talks set for Feb. 4

Staff writer

Japan and North Korea will begin the first of three-track normalization talks on Feb. 4 in Beijing, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Friday.

The meetings are expected to last for four or five days, Aso told a news conference, saying Japan hopes to hold general meetings on the first and last days of talks and break off into the separate-issue talks on Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese, security and settlement of Japan's past aggression in between.

They will be the first normalization talks between Japan and North Korea since a meeting was held in October 2002 in Kuala Lumpur.

The two sides have had bilateral meetings on several occasions since Kuala Lumpur, but have not called them normalization talks.

"Japan's utmost interest is to (resolve) the issue of the abductions and (North Korea's) utmost interest is certainly about normalization," Aso said. "The two sides need to settle topics they do not want to face in order to reach a comprehensive agreement."

Tokyo will urge Pyongyang to allow surviving Japanese abducted to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s to return to Japan, to investigate the issue further and to hand over the abductors, Aso said.

Government officials don't expect any breakthroughs.

"North Korea will likely tell Japan there is nothing to discuss on the nuclear (arms) program, as there has been no progress in (the) six-party talks," a top ministry official said on condition of anonymity. "There is no sign of a breakthrough on the abductions as well."

China is currently trying to arrange the next round of six-nation talks on defusing the Pyongyang nuclear threat that include Japan, the United States, Russia, and North Korea and South Korea.

However, Pyongyang has refused to return to the table until the U.S. lifts its sanctions on the North. Washington imposed the sanctions alleging Pyongyang used Macau bank Banco Delta Asia to front its illicit financial activities, including counterfeiting dollars.

Koichi Haraguchi, Foreign Ministry ambassador for the normalization talks with North Korea, will head the talks on settling issues related to Japan's harsh 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. His counterpart will be Song Il Ho, a key North Korean negotiator to Japan.

The security talks, which will take up the North's nuclear arms quest, will be headed by Tadamichi Yamamoto, Foreign Ministry ambassador on North Korea's nuclear agenda, and Chung Tae Yang, vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's American States Affairs Department.

Kunio Umeda, deputy chief of the ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Kim Chul Ho, vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's Asian Affairs Department, will lead the abduction talks.

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The Japan Times

Article 6 of 15 in National news

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