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At Abduction Talks, Japan Protests North Korea Missile Launch

Junichi Ihara, third from left, shakes hand with Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador, July 1, 2014.

Talks between North Korea and Japan got off to a rocky start Tuesday, with the two sides bickering over Pyongyang's recent short-range missile launch.

The talks, being held at the North Korean embassy in Beijing, are to focus on Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

There was some concern over whether the negotiations would go ahead following the North's Sunday test-firing of two short-range scud missiles.

At the beginning of the talks, Japan's head delegate, Junichi Ihara, said Tokyo "strongly protests" the launch, which he said violates U.N. resolutions.

"It runs against the spirit of the Japanese and North Korean joint declaration and also the joint statement at the Russia summit and is greatly regrettable," said Ihara.

His North Korean counterpart, Song Il Ho, defended the tests as peaceful and legitimate, saying Pyongyang does not recognize the U.N. sanctions in question.

"As was mentioned by the Korean Central News Agency on the 30th of last month and in the Central Workers Newspaper on the 30th, these launches went as planned. Yesterday's training launches were carried out in compliance with the Korean army's strategic planning departments plans for the flight path and the planned target area which took into account matters of maintaining peace and stability in the region," said Ho.

There was no mention of whether the talks made any progress on the abducted Japanese citizens.

North Korea agreed in May to re-open an investigation into the abducted Japanese citizens in exchange for Tokyo relaxing some longstanding sanctions.

Song is expected Tuesday to release details on a special panel to probe the issue.

North Korea acknowledged in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese citizens to teach its spies about Japanese culture.

Five of the abductees were returned. The North said the rest are dead, but many in Japan suspect at least a dozen more were kidnapped.

The kidnapping issue has been the biggest irritant to ties between North Korea and Japan, which do not have diplomatic relations.

Japan, along with others in the region, also frequently complains about North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests.