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Row Over Pyongyang's Past Abduction of Japanese Threatens to Disrupt Nuclear Talks

  • Benjamin Sand

As delegates to next week's nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea begin gathering in Beijing, the nations involved are already hinting at their individual agendas, providing a glimpse of what subjects may or may not be discussed.

While Beijing is gearing up for a resumption of the stalled negotiations, a long simmering conflict between North Korea and Japan is threatening to disrupt the talks before they even get under way.

North Korea Saturday announced it "feels no need" to sit down directly with Japan during the six-party talks.

An editorial carried by the official North Korean news agency objected to Japan's insistence on discussing North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens during the Cold War.

It was not clear whether Saturday's statement implied that North Korea might again boycott the talks, as it has done for the past 13 months, or simply refuse to engage Japan directly when the negotiations resume on Tuesday.

The South Korean envoy to the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, insisted Friday that the negotiations would focus on nuclear disarmament, and not on side issues.

Mr. Song says North Korea's abandonment of nuclear weapons is what the talks are about. He says the North's human rights record is not on the agenda, and other countries have agreed that the issue is not a topic for discussion.

North Korea admits it kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 80s. Japan is still seeking details about the fate of eight of the abductees, who Pyongyang says died while in captivity.

The United States in the past has supported Japanese determination to raise the abduction issue during the talks.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue on Japanese television earlier this week.

"The American side fully understands the sensitivity of the abductee issue," he said. "I don't think we can ever have full normal relations with North Korea until the matter is resolved…"

However, a U.S. spokesman reiterated Friday that the main issue remains the North's nuclear disarmament.

The South Korean envoy arrived in Beijing Saturday, a day after his North Korean counterpart.

Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy, is scheduled to arrive in Beijing Sunday, and the Japanese and Russian delegates are due to follow.

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