Sun, Apr 01, 2007 - Page 5 News List

S Korea and Japan begin talks on weapons

NUKES AND HISTORY The two Asian giants met on the South Korean holiday island of Jeju to discuss nuclear weapons programs and the row over wartime `comfort women'

AFP , SEOUL

South Korea and Japan started talks yesterday focusing on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and a row over wartime sex slavery, South Korean officials said.

Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso met on the South Korean holiday island of Jeju in a follow-up to Song's visit to Tokyo last December.

Aso is expected to reaffirm his cooperation with Song to follow up on North Korea's commitment to dismantling its nuclear programs, Japanese officials said, according to Japan's Kyodo news agency.

North Korea agreed in principle last month to disable its nuclear programs under a deal which also foresees normalization of relations with Japan and the US.

But progress on implementing the Feb. 13 accord has been stalled over North Korea's frozen bank accounts.

A meeting this month on normalizing Japan-North Korea relations broke down when Tokyo insisted on getting answers about the fate of kidnapped citizens.

North Korea has acknowledged kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies. It returned five victims and their families and says the rest are dead.

Japan says the other abductees are alive and that more Japanese were snatched than Pyongyang has admitted.

It says until there are "positive developments" on abductions, it will not help fund aid promised under the February agreement reached during six-nation talks aimed at North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

Seoul in the past has criticized Tokyo's insistence on raising abductions during six-party talks which involve Russia, the US and China, japan and the two Koreas.

Yesterday's talks also follow a recent uproar in South Korea over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's remarks that there was no evidence to prove the Japanese government forced Asian women into sexual slavery in World War II.

Seoul has expressed "deep regrets" over Abe's remarks made earlier this month.

"Minister Song is expected to raise the issue during his meeting with Aso," a South Korean foreign ministry official was quoted as saying on condition of anonymity by Yonhap news agency.

A dispute over a chain of islets called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan is also expected to be raised. The two sides want to agree rules for marine surveys around the islands to avoid future clashes.

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