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Japan, N. Korea Split on Key Issues at Normalization Talks - 2002-10-30

Japan and North Korea appear to be making little progress in their second and final day of normalization talks Wednesday. The two sides remain far apart on key issues, including North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Japan and North Korean negotiators in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, spent Wednesday morning discussing plans for a panel to monitor the North's security issues. They did not, however, talk about much larger and more contentious issues blocking normal diplomatic ties.

Among them: The North's nuclear weapons program and the abductions of Japanese nationals by the North. On Tuesday, the North rejected a call to end it nuclear program, which Washington revealed earlier this month. The United States, South Korea and Japan are pushing Pyongyang to abandon the program.

Tokyo also pushed unsuccessfully for talks on at least 13 Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North decades ago. The five known surviving abductees are now visiting Japan, and North Korea has said it views the abduction issue as largely resolved. However, Japan wants the abductees' children to join them in Japan and also wants information on the fate of the victims Pyongyang says are dead.

Chief North Korea delegate Jong Thae Hwa voiced frustration with the Japanese team's focus on these issues. He warns that his side was running out of patience and calls for a quick end to the rapprochement process.

He says that the focus of these talks is economic cooperation and the normalization of ties, not security-related issues. He also reiterates that Japan should pay compensation for its colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, a demand Japan has repeatedly refused, even though it has apologized for its colonial rule.

Japan's delegation chief, Katsunari Suzuki, said Wednesday morning that the talks require greater depth. He notes that his team appears to have a different stance than the North Korean negotiators have.

Japanese officials also say that Tokyo will not offer Pyongyang financial aid unless formal diplomatic relations are established.

Observers say the lack of compromise has created an atmosphere of frustration and acrimony, and it is unclear if the two countries will issue a joint statement when the talks wrap up later Wednesday.

The two nations are holding full normalization negotiations for the first time in two years. The talks follow an unprecedented summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Pyongyang last month.