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Koizumi, Kim Meet in Bid to Ease Tensions - 2002-09-17

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is in Pyongyang for a landmark visit, the first by a Japanese leader since World War II to North Korea. He will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in a bid to ease tensions and establish diplomatic ties.

Before boarding his plane for an unprecedented summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi said he wants North Korea to become a responsible member of the international community, and that he hopes the meeting will calm regional and global tensions.

The high-stakes gathering has several key goals. North Korea wants an apology and compensation for Japan's colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945. The two leaders are expected to announce a deal on economic aid, instead of direct compensation. Analysts say Japan could provide the impoverished North with up to $10 billion.

Washington is eagerly eyeing the meeting for progress on security issues. It wants North Korea to agree to extend a moratorium on testing long-range missiles. It has also asked Japan to push Pyongyang to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, in line with a 1994 agreement.

Japan's key priority is to resolve 11 cases of abducted Japanese nationals. Tokyo believes Pyongyang kidnapped the people in the 1970's and 1980's to help train spies, a claim North Korea denies.

The Japanese government has vowed that it will not pursue diplomatic ties with its former colony without progress on the abduction issue, which is of deep importance to the Japanese people. Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda says that the abduction issue is the priority, because it involves the safety of the country and its citizens.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said Monday that he hopes the Japanese leader's trip will support his efforts to restore North-South ties, and bring the isolated North into the international community. The two Koreas remain technically at war, since their conflict ended in 1953 with an armed truce, but Mr. Kim is pursing a policy of engagement to draw the North out of its isolation.

Analysts say that after several years of chronic food and energy shortages, and a series of natural disasters, North Korea is eager to improve ties with other nations, and secure desperately needed aid. In addition to the summit with Japan, it has recently held a series of meetings with South Korea on reconciliation projects, and expressed the desire to reopen talk with the United States.