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Expectations Modest as Japan, North Korea Resume Talks

Senior Japanese and North Korean envoys are seeking to end almost a year of diplomatic silence with each other as they meet this weekend in the Chinese capital. The discussions are partly aimed at facilitating upcoming negotiations on getting rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, where South Korean officials are also preparing for the multinational nuclear talks.

Senior Japanese officials expressed only modest expectations Saturday, as North Korean and Japanese envoys arrived in Beijing for their unofficial meeting. The two sides hope to resume more formal one-on-one meetings connected to six-nation talks aimed at getting rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons.

Japan, the two Koreas, Russia, China, and the United States agreed last year on a multi-phase process which would gradually reward Pyongyang for nuclear disarmament actions. If successful, the process would eventually lead to diplomatic normalization between North Korea and both Japan, and the United States.

Prior to leaving for Saturday's talks, Japan's senior delegate to the nuclear process, Akitaka Saiki, said he hopes the North Koreans come to the table with a sincere attitude.

He says he hopes the bilateral exchange goes well, because it will lay the groundwork for more talks in the future.

No breakthroughs are expected with regard to the main difficulty in relations between North Korea and Japan: the issue of abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the late 70s and 80s.

North Korea has admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens. Pyongyang returned five and said the other eight are dead. Japanese officials believe there were more abductions, and that North Korea has failed to cooperate sufficiently in accounting for the individuals in question.

North Korea has frequently accused Japan of distracting from the nuclear negotiations with the abduction issue, and has called for Tokyo's removal from the process.

Experts say successful diplomacy between Pyongyang and Tokyo could lead to significant benefits for the impoverished North down the road. Japan colonized the Korean peninsula during the first half of the 20th century, and Tokyo would be likely to provide billions of dollars worth of aid to North Korea as an indirect form of reparations - if ties between them can be normalized.

Japanese and North Korean envoys are likely to meet again before the end of the month at the six-party nuclear table. A senior U.S. official arrives here in Seoul Monday before traveling to Pyongyang, to help prepare the session.