Thursday, March 08, 2007

Historical issues stall Japan-North Korea talks

Source: CNN.

HANOI, Vietnam (Reuters) -- Japan and North Korea cut short talks on Thursday about establishing diplomatic ties after wrangling again over historical differences, officials said.

Japan said the two sides would "continue to exchange views" but no date was scheduled for more talks, part of a six-country deal last month to halt impoverished Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and diplomatic recognition.

Japan says forming ties is impossible without resolution of the issue of Japanese abducted by the reclusive communist state in the 1970s and 1980s. Meanwhile, North Korea is pressing for settlement of issues stemming from Japan's harsh 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

North Korea's chief negotiator Song Il-ho told reporters after Thursday's session at the North Korean embassy in Hanoi that the abduction issue "has been completely resolved by our sincere efforts".

He urged Japan to settle the past, lift sanctions and stop "suppressing" North Koreans living in Japan.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents had abducted 13 Japanese to train Pyongyang spies in Japanese culture and language, sparking outrage in Japan.

Five people were repatriated. Japan has demanded the return of any survivors, but Pyongyang says the other eight are dead and cannot be sent back.

In a briefing, Song described Japan's position as "an unreasonable insistence." But Japan's delegation head, Koichi Haraguchi said, "It is deplorable that North Korea did not respond sincerely to the abduction issue."

The original schedule had called for two full days of talks in communist-run Vietnam, which has good relations with both Japan and North Korea.

Delegates met on Wednesday morning at the Japanese embassy, but then cancelled an afternoon session at the North Korean embassy. Thursday's meeting lasted less than an hour.

As part of the deal struck in Beijing, North Korea this week sent its chief nuclear envoy to the United States for talks and a delegation to meet the Japanese. By contrast, the talks in New York were "very good" according to an American envoy.

The Japan-North Korea talks were the first since they met in Beijing more than a year ago. Those made no visible progress, either.

In Tokyo, Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might order a new study of the government's role in forcing women, many of them Koreans, to act as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War Two.

Abe has angered the Koreans and other Asians with remarks that appeared to question the state's role, although he has also said a 1993 apology acknowledging coercion remained in effect. (Full story)

Separately on Wednesday at the United Nations, North Korea's envoy accused Japan of creating "a horrific atmosphere of terror" for pro-Pyongyang groups in Japan with investigations into their activities following Pyongyang's 2006 nuclear and missile tests.

Western, Asian and developing nations on the board of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog on Wednesday urged North Korea to honor the deal toward de-nuclearization of the divided Korean Peninsula.

The six-party agreement included North and South Korea, which are still technically at war after the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean war. The others are the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

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