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Japan PM to fine-tune N.Korea views on S.Korea visit
Updated: 2004-07-20 11:06

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi heads to South Korea this week to try to make sure the two U.S. allies are on the same page in efforts to resolve a crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions, analysts say.

Koizumi's two-day visit from Wednesday for talks with President Roh Moo-hyun will take place amid signs the United States is moving closer to the approaches of Japan and South Korea in resolving the lengthy impasse with North Korea.

The crisis erupted in October 2002 when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it was working on a secret program to enrich uranium for weapons. North Korea denies having such a program.

One aim may be to fine-tune positions so that South Korea doesn't soften its stance toward North Korea too much and put it at odds with the United States and Japan, analysts said.

"South Korea's stance has ... a slight difference in nuance from the positions of Japan and the United States," said Teruo Komaki, a professor at Kokushikan University who specializes in Korean peninsula issues.

"I think the biggest aim ... will be to reduce such differences as much as possible."

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda had seemed to hint at such gaps when he said last week Koizumi was expected to sound out Roh about his country's stance toward North Korea.

"We have seen some remarks that appear to be somewhat tuned in to North Korean comments, and we need to confirm their meaning," Kyodo news agency quoted Hosoda as saying last Tuesday.

One possible topic at the summit, to be held on the resort island of Cheju, is a U.S. proposal unveiled last month at six-way talks in Beijing that would extend energy aid as part of a solution to the nuclear crisis.


Under the proposal, the North must first commit to dismantle its nuclear programs. Washington would then provide Pyongyang with security assurances and all five other negotiating parties -- South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States -- would offer energy assistance.

"I think Japan and South Korea will confirm that there are ... hurdles to be cleared before such incentives are given," said Noriyuki Suzuki, chief analyst at Radiopress, a Japanese broadcast monitoring service known for its North Korea expertise.

"If there are too many tasty rewards waiting at various steps ... it could let North Korea profit without conducting a complete dismantlement," Suzuki added.

Roh may also want to discuss Koizumi's efforts toward establishing diplomatic ties with North Korea.

South Korea wants to improve relations with North Korea and use that as a springboard for resolving the nuclear issue and probably wants Japan to take a similar approach, said Keio University professor Masao Okonogi.

"I think their true feelings are that they want Japan to also quickly conduct bilateral talks with North Korea without attaching too many conditions," Okonogi said.

Japanese officials said this month that Japan was likely to re-start talks on diplomatic ties with North Korea in a few months. Koizumi has said he hoped to forge ties within a year.

One major barrier to the talks, the plight of Japanese abducted by North Korea decades ago, has been eased by the repatriation of five surviving abductees in 2002 and their recent reunion with their North Korean-born children.

The last of the five, Hitomi Soga, was reunited with her husband, former U.S. soldier Charles Robert Jenkins, and their two daughters in Indonesia this month.

Jenkins, whom Washington accuses of deserting 39 years ago and who married Soga in North Korea, arrived in Japan on Sunday with his family for medical treatment.

"North Korea is making very active responses. They have responded on issues including the visit of Jenkins' family to Japan and are showing a positive stance toward the issue of those (Japanese) whose fate is unknown," Hosoda told a news conference on Tuesday. "I think conditions to start negotiations are falling into place."

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