Japan Says North Korea Agrees to 3 Sets of Teams for Talks

Japanese officials say two days of talks with their North Korean counterparts in Beijing have led to a breakthrough concerning unresolved issues between the countries.

Japan says North Korea agreed Sunday to discuss several outstanding issues in parallel, something Japanese negotiators had requested.

The Japanese chief delegate Akitaka Saiki, speaking to reporters shortly after two days of discussions in Beijing ended, says the new talks will begin in late January.

Mr. Saiki says Japan and North Korea will establish several working groups. One will focus on the communist state's abductions of Japanese nationals and another will discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs. A third group will negotiate establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries - something Pyongyang has desired.

He also says that North Korea told Japan it will act in a sincere manner on the issue of the abductees and other unresolved bilateral matters.

Japan has insisted that before diplomatic ties can be established, North Korea must give a full accounting of the fate of Japanese citizens it has acknowledged kidnapping during the Cold War.

Pyongyang admits to kidnapping 13 people, and allowed five to return to Japan a few years ago. The rest, North Korea says, are dead. However, Japanese officials have not yet received what they consider proof about the fate of the remaining eight. Many Japanese citizens also think that North Korea may have snatched many more people over the years.

Talks on normalizing relations have been stalled for more than three years. Pyongyang has also repeatedly insisted that, for normal relations, Tokyo must pay compensation to the communist state for Japan's 35-year colonization of the Korean peninsula, which ended in 1945.

In addition to the promise of talking with Japanese officials about its nuclear weapons programs, North Korea is engaged in multilateral negotiations on the issue. But no date has been set for a sixth round after the negotiations recessed last month in Beijing.

Pyongyang has said it would not return to the nuclear talks unless the United States ends economic sanctions imposed on some North Korean businesses.

Those sanctions were imposed after Washington accused North Korea of counterfeiting of U.S. currency, money laundering and other illegal activities.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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