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Japanese, North Korean Negotiators Meet to Discuss Kidnappings  - 2004-09-26

Japanese and North Korean negotiators held a second day of talks in Beijing as part of an effort by Tokyo to get more information on the fate of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago.

The talks were overshadowed by Japanese concerns that Pyongyang might be planning a short-range missile test.

Japanese media said Akitaka Saiki, Japan's lead envoy to the negotiations in Beijing, had expressed "serious concern" to the North Koreans about their alleged plans to carry out a test. Going into the talks, North Korean officials said they would not take up any issue other than the kidnappings.

North Korea admitted to abducting 13 Japanese in the 1970s and '80s and forcing them to train North Korean spies. Pyongyang allowed five abductees to return to Japan, but says the others died in captivity. Japan called the talks that opened in Beijing on Saturday because Japan wants more information on the citizens North Korea claims are dead.

China sees the abduction issue as a distraction from a bigger issue: How to resolve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

Japan is one of the participants in six-way negotiations that have gone on for months, and has in the past insisted on including the kidnappings in talks with North Korea about the nuclear program.

Analysts say it is in the United States' interest if Japan and North Korea can settle the kidnapping problem separately, before the six-way talks resume. Larry Niksch, an expert on East Asian politics at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, says the two allies need to work together to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

"Japan, which has been America's closest ally in the talks is so wrapped up right now in the negotiations with North Korea over the kidnapping issue, that Japan has turned hesitant about fully endorsing the U.S. approach," he said.

The talks with North Korea have been repeatedly stalled, the last time due to South Korea's revelation that it had secretly conducted nuclear experiments. United Nations nuclear inspectors left Seoul after a week-long investigation of South Korea's state-run nuclear research centers.

This is the second time in two months that Japan and North Korea have held working-level negotiations over the abductions. Japanese diplomats say they have had no progress to report during Sunday's talks, and they are likely to schedule a third round of discussions soon.