Japan, N Korea set for high-level talks

The Japanese and North Korean governments are making arrangements to hold official talks this month between director general-level foreign ministry officials, sources told The Yomiuri Shimbun on Monday.

Attention is expected to focus on whether the two sides can reach an agreement about North Korea reinvestigating the cases of Japanese abducted by that country, which the Japanese government has demanded of Pyongyang. North Korea will likely demand that Japan partially lift its sanctions on North Korea in return for Pyongyang conducting the reinvestigation.

The meeting is expected to be attended by Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador in charge of negotiations with Japan.

Official governmental talks between Japan and North Korea resumed in late March in Beijing after a hiatus of about one year and four months.

According to the sources, the Japanese side asked North Korea during those talks to reexamine the cases of 12 people whom the Japanese government has recognised as abduction victims and of about 470 specially designated missing persons who are believed to be possible victims of abduction by North Korea.

In response, the North Korean side expressed its intention to accept the demand to conduct the reinvestigation, on condition that some of Japan's sanctions on North Korea be lifted, the sources said. The sanctions include a ban on North Korean ships' entry into Japanese ports and restrictions on officials of North Korea-related organisations in Japan from taking trips to North Korea and returning to Japan.

While awaiting the outcome, Japanese officials, including Keiichi Ono, director of the Foreign Ministry's Northeast Asia Division, had unofficial contact with North Korean officials in Shanghai on April 5 and 6. The officials coordinated opinions to bring about the director general-level meeting.

The Japanese government has been carefully considering the possibility of Japan lifting some of the sanctions if North Korea agrees to the reinvestigation, because doing so may disrupt its concerted actions with the United States and South Korea regarding the serious threat posed to the international community by North Korea's nuclear and missile development.

"There must not be any surprises for the Japan-US alliance," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.