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Japan PM may visit N.Korea in September
( 2003-07-06 15:45) (Agencies)

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is exploring the possibility of a visit to North Korea in September, a major Japanese daily reported on Sunday.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) said talks were going on behind the scenes to arrange what would be Koizumi's second visit to the country, after a trip in September 2002.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said he was unaware of such a possibility.

"There is no such plan whatsoever, as far as I know," ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said.

"However, we have had communications through various channels with an eye to re-opening normalisation talks and also resolving the abduction and the nuclear issues."

He declined to give further details or say how recently the last talks had been.

The Nikkei said Koizumi's visit would aim to break the stalemate in international negotiations over North Korea's nuclear programme as well as resolve issues over its abduction of Japanese.

Japan would have to coordinate its actions with the United States and consider a number of domestic and international issues before any such visit could take place, it added, however.

Koizumi made a historic visit to North Korea last September and met with its leader Kim Jong-il, who apologised and admitted that Pyongyang did kidnap Japanese in the 1960s and 1970s to help train spies.

His admission led to talks on resuming ties, but negotiations have since stalled, largely over the handling of five abductees who returned to Japan in October and remain separated from their North Korean-born children.

The crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions has also hampered progress.

China hosted an initial round of talks on the nuclear issue that included China, North Korea and the United States in April, but the meeting ended with no evident agreement and no date set for another round.

Washington has pressed for Pyongyang to agree to expand future talks to include South Korea and Japan, but the North wants direct two-way talks with the United States.

Some Japanese analysts, though, have said it was possible that, if the situation became completely deadlocked, Koizumi could attempt to break this through "bold diplomatic moves" such as visiting North Korea.

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