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Japan to Rethink N. Korean Strategy - 2002-10-31

A top Japanese diplomat says Tokyo will rethink its strategy for dealing with North Korea. Japanese and North Korean negotiators made no progress this week on resolving disputes over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program and the abductions of Japanese nationals by the North.

The head of the Japanese negotiating team, Katsunari Suzuki, told reporters that Japan would review its tactics but will keep in contact with North Korea through various channels. He admitted that the two sides could not get along at all during their talks.

The two countries completed two days of negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday, but made no progress on establishing diplomatic ties. The issues of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program and its kidnapping of Japanese nationals were major stumbling blocks.

Pyongyang admitted last month to the United States that it was secretly attempting to enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons. The United States, Japan and South Korea are pushing the North to halt the program, which experts say violates four international agreements.

Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda says that Japan's envoys tried to negotiate at the talks but were unable to do so successfully. He says that while significant progress was not made, both nations agreed to try to resolve their differences.

One issue standing between the two countries is that of the Japanese citizens Pyongyang kidnapped decades ago to help train spies. Five of the 13 people Pyongyang admits to kidnapping are now visiting Japan. The North demands that they return, brushing aside Tokyo's request that the abductees' children come to Japan to be reunited with their parents.

Pyongyang's delegates said Wednesday talks on the abductions and its nuclear program would come only after ties are normalized. The North Korean position in the talks is drawing fire from the Japanese news media. Several newspapers Thursday ran editorials lambasting North Korea's unwillingness to negotiate and calling on Japan to continue pursuing its goals.

The widely read Yomiuri newspaper says that with its combination of nuclear development and its missile program, there is no greater menace to Japan than the North. The Asahi newspaper predicts that without Japanese involvement, there will be little movement on dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.

In South Korea, the government takes a softer approach. A government spokeswoman Thursday reiterated Seoul's demand that the North take verifiable action to defuse international concerns over its nuclear weapons program. However, she also said that Seoul is confident of a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

The hard-line Stalinist North Korea continues to blame the United States for the nuclear dispute. On state-run radio Wednesday, Pyongyang defended the nuclear program, saying it was under threat from the United States. But it also said the way to solve the situation is through a non-aggression pact with Washington.