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Thursday, Sep. 20, 2012

Use broad strategy: ex-envoy to North

Jiji

Japan needs to address the nuclear question with North Korea if it wants to resolve the dispute over Japanese abducted by North Korean agents decades ago, according to former senior diplomat Hitoshi Tanaka.

News photo
Hitoshi Tanaka

The former deputy foreign minister for political affairs underscored the need for Japan to use a comprehensive strategy when negotiating with North Korea.

"The Japanese public hopes the abduction issue will progress exclusive of other issues. But that's not what will happen," Tanaka said in a recent interview, adding that the nuclear issue can't be separated from other problems that exist between Japan and North Korea.

"North Korea is betting its survival (on its nuclear programs), which is why it is actually better to approach the nuclear issue to move (talks on) the abduction issue forward," he said.

Tanaka called attention to "a comprehensive solution," wording used by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in dealing with North Korean issues. It was a meaningful term, he said.

"Many people are taking the short-sighted approach of focusing on the abduction issue, but this will not lead to a resolution," he said. "Tokyo needs to conduct diplomacy professionally and negotiate with Pyongyang in a strategic and calculated way."

Tanaka led talks with Pyongyang under the Koizumi administration. The talks paved the way for the historic September 2002 visit to North Korea by Koizumi and a summit with Kim Jong Il.

During the visit, they signed the Pyongyang Declaration, which calls for a comprehensive resolution to North Korea's nuclear ambitions, its missile program and the abduction issue.

Tanaka said Koizumi's visit and the Pyongyang Declaration marked the beginning of ongoing efforts to establish diplomatic ties with the North.

"I believe that we got off to the right start 10 years ago," he said. "We tried to make a breakthrough for Japan-North Korea relations, which had long been in an impasse. So it was very important to take a long-term view and make a start in the right direction."

Koizumi's visit was meaningful because it made Kim admit and apologize for the abductions, Tanaka said. "Because the abductions were acts of the state, nobody except the leader could have admitted they took place."

The toughest part of the negotiations was North Korea's claim for compensation stemming from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Compensation was not an option, he said, as South Korea abandoned its claim for Japanese redress in exchange for economic aid when the two countries normalized diplomatic ties in 1965.

In the same vein, Japan managed to persuade North Korea to agree to drop its claim, while in return Tokyo promised to provide economic assistance following diplomatic normalization. Tanaka said this was a forward-looking framework.

Koizumi's visit also opened the door to the launch of the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions, he said, noting that it was the first opportunity for Japan to deal with the reclusive state's nuclear program.

Looking back at his negotiations with the senior North official often referred to as "Mr. X" over the 2002 visit, Tanaka stressed that they both made contacts with top-level officials on the opposing side.



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