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Talks Stall Between Japan, N. Korea

Japan and North Korea held unofficial talks over the weekend but failed to agree on when to resume negotiations on establishing diplomatic ties. The two sides are at odds over a group of Japanese abductees visiting their homeland as well as North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Japan and North Korea remain far apart on key issues that appear to be blocking further talks on normalizing relations. A senior Japanese diplomat met with North Korean officials in China on Saturday and Sunday, but no progress was made toward scheduling further discussions on establishing diplomatic ties.

Japan's top government spokesman, Yasuo Fukuda, said Monday that each side has its own opinions and stance but that Tokyo will persevere in its efforts with the North.

The two nations disagree over the North's nuclear arms program, which Pyongyang revealed last month to a U.S. envoy. Since then, Japan, the United States, South Korea and other nations have pushed Pyongyang to halt the program, which violates several international accords.

The other issue blocking progress is Tokyo's demand that North Korea allow the children of five Japanese kidnapped by the North to come to Japan. The five abductees are now in Japan on their first visit home in nearly 25 years, but Pyongyang demands they return to the North. North Korea abducted them to train its spies.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reversed years of denials and admitted that the abductions had taken place at a summit with the Japanese leader Junichiro Koizumi in September. The surprising revelation paved the way for a round of normalization talks in October, but they ended without progress.

That meeting was the first of its kind between the two Northeast Asian neighbors in two years. The two countries have never set up official ties. While concerns in Japan focus on the abductees and the nuclear issue, North Korea wants Japan to pay billions of dollars in compensation for its brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.