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N. Korea Rejects Japanese Demand to End Nuclear Weapons Program - 2002-10-29

In the first day of talks with North Korea on normalizing relations, Japanese negotiators say Pyongyang has rejected demands that it abandon its nuclear weapons program. The nuclear issue may complicate the two days of talks in Malaysia.

Japanese delegates told reporters shortly after the talks opened Tuesday that North Korea rejected a call to end its nuclear weapons program. They report that the North Korean delegates say American hostility justifies continuing the program.

The United States, South Korea and Japan are all pushing Pyongyang to give up the program, which the United States revealed earlier this month. North Korea's bid to build nuclear weapons violates several international commitments.

The revelation of the program stunned Japan, which is within striking distance of North Korean missiles.

At the talks, Japan also wants to discuss the issue of Japanese civilians kidnapped decades ago to train North Korean spies. Five of the 13 people Pyongyang admits to abducting are currently visiting Japan.

Japan wants their children in North Korea to be allowed to join them. But North Korea says the issue is largely resolved and accuses Japan of breaking a promise that the abductees' visit would be short.

North Korea for its part wants to discuss the brutal Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula during the first half of the 20th century. Japan has apologized for actions during the occupation but has refused a demand for reparations.

Both sides earlier acknowledged they have significant differences to bridge.

Chief Japanese delegate Katsunari Suzuki said Japan wants primarily to discuss the abduction and nuclear issues. He said Tokyo would do its best to move toward normalizing ties and would ask North Korea to do the same.

The two day talks that began Tuesday in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur are aimed at creating normal diplomatic ties between the two countries. They had been suspended for two years but were revived after a meeting in Pyongyang last month between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.