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North Korea Cancels Meeting With Japan - 2002-03-29

North Korea has called off an upcoming meeting with Japanese officials to discuss World War II compensation, saying it was not prepared for the talks. The announcement came shortly after Japan said it planned to raise the issue of missing Japanese citizens that Tokyo believes were kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

The postponed talks between the Japanese and North Korean health ministers, which had been slated during the next two days in Singapore, would have been the first cabinet-level meeting between the two countries since July of 2000.

North Korea canceled the gathering Friday, saying preparations were incomplete. But Japanese government sources have suggested that Pyongyang postponed the meeting because of Tokyo's intention to raising the issue of the North's alleged abduction of 11 Japanese nationals for espionage purposes.

North Korea has denied any involvement in the kidnappings, which have become a major stumbling block to the establishment of official ties between the two nations.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi was unusually outspoken Friday for a high-ranking Japanese official. He called North Korea's attitude insincere and said that if Pyongyang wants to reschedule the talks, he is not sure if he would want to proceed.

The meeting's official topic would have been Japanese aid to North Korean survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. At the time, Japan had colonized the Korean Peninsula and brought thousands of Koreans to this country as forced laborers. The Japanese funds would have helped North Korean bombing victims cover health care costs.

Japanese officials considered the meeting a potential opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough for the two nations, which have locked horns (struggled) over the kidnapping issue, as well as North Korea's missile and suspected nuclear weapons programs.

Recently, the isolated communist nation has made some indications that it wants to renew contacts with the outside world. It has agreed to receive a special South Korean presidential envoy on the third of April, and the North Korean and Japanese Red Cross Societies recently decided to reopen a joint probe into the whereabouts of the missing 11 Japanese nationals.

In addition, North Korea's prime minister told Parliament Wednesday that the country must re-adjust its economic foundations to engage in greater cooperation with other countries and international organizations.