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Japan, North Korea End Talks with No Agreement on Kidnappings Issue


Japan and North Korea have wrapped up their latest round of talks on normalizing relations without an agreement on the emotional issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the North.

The five-day talks centered on the kidnapping issue as well as North Korea's nuclear activities, which have made Tokyo nervous, especially since Pyongyang test-fired a missile over Japan in 1998.

Negotiators ended the talks saying they clarified their demands but made no progress on any substantive issues.

Japanese envoy Koichi Haraguchi spoke Wednesday at the end of the discussions - the first Japan-North Korea normalization talks in three years.

"Now, at the end of this meeting, there are still lingering doubts about what kind of efforts have been put in, and when concrete steps will be taken," he said. "But, when you consider that this is the first meeting between the two sides after such a long freeze in relations, we have come to an understanding of the fact that there are still very large differences between our positions."

Japan says it wants a full account of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents during the Cold War. North Korea has admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese. It has released five of them and says the other eight are dead. Japan wants proof of their fate and information on others it believes Pyongyang may have kidnapped in order to help train North Korean spies.

Tokyo also wants the Korean nuclear issue resolved before it agrees to establish diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. North Korea wants compensation for Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century.

Japanese officials called North Korea's failure to answer questions about the kidnappings "regrettable." Tokyo also condemned a request by North Korea for Japan to hand over Japanese nationals who work to help North Korean refugees.

The talks also failed to yield any agreement by North Korea to return to six-nation negotiations on its nuclear ambitions. North Korea in September agreed in principle to give up its nuclear programs but has refused to return to follow-up talks. Pyongyang has expressed anger over U.S. sanctions imposed over alleged North Korean counterfeiting, money laundering, and other crimes.

North Korean envoy Song Il Ho on Wednesday called on Japan to press the United States to lift the sanctions.

Song said North Korea is ready to return to talks but only if Washington lifts its sanctions. He urged Japan "as Washington's friend" to push U.S. officials to end their restrictions.

U.S. officials had no immediate comment on the North Korean envoy's remarks.

Japanese and North Korean diplomats agreed to meet again to talk more about normalizing ties but did not set a date.