Leaving behind years of animosity, Japan and North Korea agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties in an historic meeting in Pyongyang Tuesday. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with North Korean leader Kim Jung-Il to discuss several issues that have stalled progress of the talks for the past two years. One stumbling block had been Japan's insistence that North Korea provide information on the fate of 11 Japanese nationals who were kidnapped in 1970 and 1980. A Japanese official said Kim apologized, but said only four of the 11 were still alive. He assured mister Koizumi those responsible were punished. North Korea had previously denied the kidnappings.
The two leaders also discussed North Korea's 1994 agreement to freeze a suspected nuclear weapons program. The U.S. has accused Pyongyang of violating the agreement by refusing to allow the international atomic energy agency to conduct inspections of its nuclear facilities. Mister Koizumi said there was progress on the issue.
JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI, JAPANESE PRIMER MINISTER
"North Korea's nuclear arms program is something the world has been watching. This time Mr. Kim Jong-Il has clarified that he will keep all the related international agreements. The important thing is that North Korea put these agreements into practice."
North Korea had also demanded compensation for 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. Mr. Koizumi apologized and said Japan would deal with the issue in an "appropriate fashion". But it is expected Pyongyang would agree to accept economic aid instead of direct compensation. Analysts say North Korea wants to improve ties with the west to secure desperately-needed aid. The communist nation has been hit hard by a severe drought, and serious food and energy shortages.