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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Tokyo to leverage whole talks on abduction issue

Staff writer

In a move to pressure North Korea a day before bilateral talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang are to start in Beijing, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Friday that Tokyo may consider abandoning the three-track talks on security, abduction and normalization if there is no progress on the abduction issue.

Among the three main issues up for discussion, Japan has placed priority on resolving the issue of abductions of its nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

Aso's remark appears aimed at pushing North Korea to provide concrete information on the fate of the abductees.

The foreign minister said at a news conference that if North Korea does not behave "sincerely," Tokyo will not be forthcoming in the normalization negotiations. "Voices (to abandon the talks) will rise" if there is no progress on the abduction question, he added.

For its part, North Korea has said the most important issue is for Japan to reach a settlement over its harsh colonial rule.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said the government hopes to make headway on the abduction issue by pushing ahead with talks on a settlement over the colonial rule in line with the Pyongyang Declaration, signed in 2002 by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

The declaration states the two nations will discuss the amount and content of economic aid to be provided by Japan to North Korea as part of the normalization talks.

North Korea hopes to begin discussion on the amount of economic aid, but Japanese officials have said the issue will have to be decided by top leaders during the final stage of the normalization process.

Relatives of abductees and their supporters are worried that if talks on other issues make headway, the government will go ahead with the negotiations even with the abduction issue unresolved.

A delegation of about 20 Foreign Ministry officials, headed by Koichi Haraguchi, the envoy overseeing the normalization negotiations, will attend the upcoming talks, which will be held in a Beijing hotel starting Saturday.

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The Japan Times

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