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Little Progress Reported in Japan-N. Korea Red Cross Talks - 2002-08-19

Japanese and North Korean Red Cross officials have ended two-days of talks with limited progress on resolving disputes that stand in the way of establishing diplomatic ties.

Red Cross officials from Japan and North Korea issued a joint statement after their two-day meeting in Pyongyang. It says the two sides moved forward on resolving their disputes.

But there was no breakthrough on the issue of 11 Japanese nationals Tokyo accuses North Korea of abducting in the 1970s and 1980s for spying purposes. North Korea has always denied having kidnapped the Japanese and instead views them as missing persons.

The joint statement says that Pyongyang confirmed the whereabouts of six missing Japanese nationals during the talks. But Japanese officials say the six are not among the Japanese citizens Tokyo says were kidnapped and taken to North Korea.

A Japanese official in Pyongyang told reporters that the lack of progress on this issue was disappointing, but noted that the bilateral dialogue remains intact.

The two sides agreed to give visiting rights to about 2,000 Japanese women who live in the North with their Korean husbands. North Korea had previously allowed just a fraction to make visits to their homeland.

The Red Cross Societies agreed to meet again as soon as possible.

Next week, senior foreign ministry officials from Japan and North Korea are scheduled to meet in Pyongyang to resume wide-ranging talks on normalizing bilateral ties. Such talks were last held in October 2000.

These contacts are part of the reclusive North Korean government's recent diplomatic initiatives. The hardline Stalinist state apparently is seeking to improve ties with South Korea, Japan, and the United States to help build its impoverished economy.