North Korea, Japan begin talks on possible diplomatic ties

North Korean and Japanese envoys on Monday began talks on forging possible diplomatic ties despite making little progress in weekend meetings on the contentious issue of Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese nationals.

Envoys from the two sides opened the four-day talks Saturday at a hotel in the Chinese capital in the first high-level contact in three years aimed at normalizing relations. The North declared after Sunday's session that differences of opinion remained on kidnappings.

Delegates said Monday's session would address economic cooperation, the status of North Koreans living in Japan and the return of cultural relics, part of reparations demanded by Pyongyang for Japan's colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula in 1910-45.

"The Japanese government has been talking over and over again about righting the wrongs of history for the past 60 years," North Korea's chief representative, Song Il Ho, told reporters. "Today we are here to find out whether the Japanese government has sincerity and real willingness."

Koichi Haraguchi, Japan's chief envoy, was quoted as saying by the Kyodo News agency that Japan will tell North Korea it will be difficult to establish relations unless the abductions issue is resolved.

"We want to confirm our mutual understanding on the issue of economic cooperation. As for normalizing ties, it will be difficult unless the kidnapping issue is resolved," Haraguchi was quoted as saying before Monday's session began.

In 2002, North Korea admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens. It later released five and said the other eight had died. But Tokyo wants evidence of the deaths and for North Korea to fully investigate the cases of other suspected abductees who were kidnapped by Northern agents in the 1970s and '80s.

"North Korea has to make a political decision to resolve the kidnapping issue. Japan wants North Korea to come up with concrete steps," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said at a press conference Monday in Tokyo. "We are demanding that the North return any survivors, disclose the truth about the abductions and hand over any suspected (abductees)," reports the AP.


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