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Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006

Sasae, Hill confer ahead of six-party talks Monday

Staff writer

The chief Japanese and U.S. negotiators on North Korea's nuclear weapons met Saturday in Tokyo and confirmed their solidarity -- including Washington's support for Tokyo's hard line on the abduction issue -- during the six-party talks resuming Monday.

The meeting between Christopher Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, and Kenichiro Sasae, head of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, took place one day before negotiators are getting together in Beijing to lay the groundwork for the resumption of the long-stalled six-way negotiations.

Sasae told reporters he and Hill agreed to cooperate closely, including on bilateral issues between the U.S. and North Korea, and those between Japan and the North.

"I think the U.S. has showed willingness to give full cooperation (on the abduction issue)," Sasae said after the meeting, with Hill standing beside him.

Hill said they had a "very good discussion on the bilateral matters," particularly the abductions.

Tokyo plans to raise during the six-party talks the issue of the 17 Japanese nationals it says were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s, a focus of keen attention by the Japanese media, public and politicians.

The North has repeatedly demanded Japan be removed from the six-party talks, apparently trying to create a split among the five nations pressing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs. They are the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and South Korea.

Hill meanwhile predicted that next week will be "a very long and difficult week" of negotiating with the North.

The North Korean delegation has repeatedly said the U.S. must first lift its financial sanctions before demanding that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons.

Asked if he can show any flexibility on the financial sanctions during the upcoming talks, Hill only said the U.S. wants to "resolve" the issue as well, but "it will of course depend on (the North's) cooperation, and depend on legal matters as well."

"But I think it very important that we (should) not focus on those financial issues, but rather on the central matter of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula," he said.

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The Japan Times

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