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Koizumi to Visit N. Korea September 17 - 2002-08-30

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi plans an unprecedented trip to North Korea, a nation with which Tokyo has no diplomatic relations. The visit is seen as an attempt by the two Asian neighbors to improve relations.

In what will be the first visit by a Japanese prime minister to North Korea, Junichiro Koizumi will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Announcements made in Tokyo and Pyongyang on Friday said the one-day trip has been set for September 17.

Relations between the two countries have been stormy at times. Tokyo has not had formal diplomatic ties with Pyongyang since the Korean peninsula was split at the end of World War II.

Senior officials from both countries have been meeting in North Korea this month to discuss establishing diplomatic relations.

Prime Minister Koizumi told reporters Friday that the two countries have many issues to discuss.

Mr. Koizumi says he wants to find a way to solve the issues dividing the two countries. He says the alleged abductions of Japanese by North Korean agents is one of the top agenda items. He says this is a matter of peace and security for the Japanese people.

The prime minister says he informed both U.S. President Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung about the trip, and they welcomed his decision.

Some North Korea watchers are calling the trip an important step forward for both Tokyo and Pyongyang. Noriyuki Suzuki is the chief North Korea analyst at the Radiopress News Agency, which monitors broadcasts from Pyongyang. He says Koizumi may have several reasons to visit the communist North.

He says this diplomatic action may be to take the focus off of Mr. Koizumi's domestic woes. But since the problems between Japan and North Korea have been lingering for more than 50 years, the visit will be a very significant event in the history of both countries.

Japan was colonial master of Korea until Tokyo lost World War II in 1945. One sticking point in normalizing relations - as far as Pyongyang is concerned - is the need for Japan to atone for its occupation and military aggression early in the 20th century.