Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Koizumi wants full North Korea ties within two years


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has said he will strive to resolve pending issues with North Korea so Japan can forge diplomatic ties with Pyongyang within about two years, when he is expected to leave office.

In an interview with Japanese media published yesterday, Koizumi said: "If possible, I want to realize the normalization of diplomatic relations within two years."

Koizumi, who is expected to leave office in September 2006 at the end of his term as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, said the two Asian neighbors could establish diplomatic ties if they "sincerely" delivered on promises he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made in the Pyongyang Declaration of 2002.

In the document signed by the two leaders, Kim pledged to uphold all international treaties regarding nuclear issues and to extend a moratorium on ballistic missile launches.

Japan offered to provide full-scale financial aid to the impoverished country once diplomatic ties are established.

"I am an optimist. I think positively, not pessimistically," Koizumi said.

After meeting Kim in Pyongyang again in May, Koizumi said he wanted to restart working-level discussions on normalizing ties.

A round of talks on normalization was held in October 2002 but stalled because of a dispute over Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents decades ago as well as Pyongyang's nuclear arms program.

Host China, the two Koreas, the US, Japan and Russia held a third and inconclusive round of talks in Beijing last week on ending the North's nuclear ambitions. They agreed to meet again by September and hold working-level talks late this month.

Analysts have said a door creaked open at the talks, with the first real sign of negotiations after Washington offered security guarantees and South Korea aid in return for North Korea agreeing to dismantle its nuclear program, including a uranium enrichment scheme that the North denies it has.

Japan is working on a plan to reunite a Japanese woman abducted and returned years later with her American husband and two daughters still in the North, in a third country, possibly in Bali, Indonesia.

Japan wants Hitomi Soga, who was abducted by North Korea in 1978 to teach Japanese language and literature to spies, to be reunited with the husband and two daughters she left behind in the North when she returned to her homeland in 2002.

Her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, is a suspected US Army deserter and defector to North Korea and he and the couple's two daughters have refused to come to Japan out of fear Jenkins could be extradited to the US to face desertion charges.

North Korea sounded a positive note on the issue.

"It [North Korea] is making every sincere effort to help Soga and her husband Jenkins and their daughters reunite, taking their intentions into consideration," the media said Tuesday.

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