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Japan Willing to Resume Talks with N. Korea - 2004-07-09


Japan says it is willing to resume talks on normalizing relations with North Korea.

Japan's government says it will soon resume working-level discussions with North Korea about establishing diplomatic relations.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda spoke to reporters in Tokyo.

Mr. Hosoda says Japan is ready for such talks now that a reunion is taking place between a repatriated abductee and her family.

He is referring to Hitomi Soga, a Japanese national abducted by North Korean spies decades ago and repatriated to Japan almost two years ago. On Friday in Jakarta she was reuniting with her American husband and their two daughters - who had stayed behind in North Korea.

Reuniting that family was a key Japanese government condition for resuming normalization talks. Spokesman Hosoda says the fate of 10 other Japanese, believed abducted but not credibly accounted for, would be at the top of the agenda with Pyongyang.

Mr. Hosoda also says Japan will negotiate with the United States about the fate of Ms. Soga's husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, who Washington has said faces desertion charges from the U.S Army.

Japan wants the family to be able to live in the country, but Tokyo and Washington have an agreement that would compel Japan to hand over the alleged Army deserter to the U.S. military if he steps on Japanese soil.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in recent weeks has publicly indicated he wants to see diplomatic ties established with North Korea, preferably within a year.

Some political analysts question whether such statements, as well as the timing of the Soga family reunion, were made to boost support for Mr. Koizumi's government before Sunday's Upper House parliamentary elections.

The latest polls show the governing Liberal Democratic Party, which is actually conservative, winning fewer seats than the opposition Democrats.

Although no change of government would result even if the LDP fared poorly, it could weaken Mr. Koizumi's political base, making it harder for him to achieve economic reform and push his foreign policy agenda.

Governing party politicians say the expected normalization talks with Pyongyang would also include the stalemated issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Normalization talks between Japan and North Korea resumed in October 2002, a month after Mr. Koizumi's first meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang. But the talks were suspended amid wide differences, mainly over the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea during the Cold War.