North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has confirmed that spies from his country kidnapped 11 Japanese nationals and that just four still are living. The astonishing statement, along with a frank apology, was made during North Korea's first summit with Japan in Pyongyang on Tuesday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apologized for the abduction of Japanese citizens for espionage purposes and vowed that it would never happen again. He promised that those responsible would be punished. His statement reversed years of denials from the hard-line communist state.
Mr. Kim's comments at his one-day summit in Pyongyang with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi Tuesday, remove a key obstacle to the establishment of formal diplomatic ties. In a joint statement, the two leaders agreed that full-scale normalization talks would begin in October.
Japan has made progress on the issue of the abductees a precondition for reopening the negotiations, which have been stalled for nearly two years.
Mr. Koizumi offered his condolences to the families of the kidnapping victims and those who had died in North Korean custody. He says he had no words to describe how they must be feeling.
The Japanese leader also offered an apology to Pyongyang for Tokyo's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. On the issue of compensation for atrocities committed during that time, the Japanese leader said further discussions were needed.
Japan is expected to offer the impoverished North Korea billions of dollars in economic aid in the near future, instead of direct compensation. The money is desperately needed to help with chronic food and energy shortages.
Mr. Koizumi also announced that North Korea would extend its moratorium on missile tests beyond 2003 and that Pyongyang was open to dialogue with the United States on its suspected nuclear-weapons program.
The prime minister says he hoped that Japan, the United States and South Korea will work closely to ease tensions with North Korea and establish regional peace.
He adds that he believes it is his government's responsibility to work towards a non-threatening relationship with Pyongyang.
The outcome of the first Japan-North Korea summit appears to fit with a new wave of Pyongyang diplomacy. In recent months, North Korea has also reached out to its rival South Korea and to the United States, clearly indicating that it wants better relations with the outside world after long periods of isolation.