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North Korea, Japan Hold First High-Level Talks in Nearly 2 Years - 2002-08-25

North Korea and Japan have opened their first high-level talks in almost two years. Their goal is to tackle key disputes blocking the establishment of diplomatic ties.

Senior Foreign Ministry officials opened meetings in Pyongyang Sunday expressing optimism that there will be progress in two days.

Japan and North Korea have never established diplomatic relations and these are the first high-level talks in two years.

The major hurdle is Tokyo's demand to know the whereabouts of 11 of its citizens. Tokyo believes North Korean agents abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s for spying purposes. Pyongyang denies having played any role in the kidnappings.

North Korea, in turn, is asking Japan for an apology and compensation for its 35-year colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula early last century.

Until now, Tokyo has always rejected such demands. But officials have hinted that there could be a discussion on an apology but not reparations.

The high-level talks begin as the isolated, Stalinist state shows signs it wants to gain economic help from other countries to revamp its economy.

Washington has said it could reopen a dialogue with the North but is waiting the outcome of these talks.

The United States canceled a scheduled visit after a deadly sea battle between North and South Korea in June.

Pyongyang later expressed regret for the incident, paving the way for a renewed dialogue with South Korea and other nations.