Japan, N Korea break the ice at Beijing talks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 5:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 5:09pm
 

Japan and North Korea have held their first government-level formal talks in more than a year following a shift in Pyongyang's handling of past abductions of Japanese citizens.

The two-day meeting in Beijing came after diplomats held informal talks on the sidelines of a conference in the Chinese city of Shenyang this month between Red Cross officials from the two countries.

"We would like to have serious and frank discussions over a broad range of outstanding issues for both sides," Junichi Ihara, head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, said.

Song Il-ho, North Korea's ambassador for talks to normalise relations with Japan, replied: "I completely feel the same way."

At the North Korean embassy, the venue of the first day of the meeting, Song expressed hope that relations between the two countries would start moving "in a positive direction", Kyodo news agency said. He compared the talks to the arrival of spring, "when icy rivers melt and water begins to flow".

The meeting comes amid recent mixed signals from Pyongyang over its willingness to re-engage in diplomacy with Tokyo.

Talks were suspended in late 2012 when Tokyo reiterated its demand that Pyongyang come clean on the abduction issue, which has long hampered efforts to improve ties in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents kidnapped more than a dozen Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. It allowed five of them to return to Japan, but said the others were either dead or had not been abducted to begin with. Japan believes there could be other Japanese abductees still alive in the North.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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