Global Policy Forum

Japan and North Korea Haggle Over

Agence France Press
December 20, 1999

Beijing - Japan and North Korea haggled over food aid and other humanitarian issues Monday, preventing them from moving on to the question of establishing diplomatic relations, Japanese officials said.

Working-level Red Cross and foreign ministry officials from the two countries met on and off here during the day to "continue stating their views and positions," a Japanese delegation source said late Monday. "They have not reached a conclusion up to now," he said. The venue of the talks of senior officials was not made known.

A second round of full-scale talks involving the deputy heads of the Red Cross societies, originally set for 10:00 a.m. (0200 GMT), was being delayed for hours into the night. Japanese officials said earlier North Korea was holding up the high-level meeting without giving any reason.

The two-day Red Cross huddle was intended to lay the groundwork for another meeting of senior foreign ministry officials who will attempt to agree on a timetable, venue and other issues for fullscale talks on restoring diplomatic ties between the two countries.

As well as food aid, the two sides are discussing humanitarian issues with Tokyo showing concerns over some 10 Japanese allegedly kinapped by North Korean agents to train spies in Japanese customs. But North Korea's official radio, monitored in Tokyo, warned at the weekend "relations will further worsen if Japan brings up unjust issues such as the so-called abduction suspicions."

The humanitarian issues also included proposed home visits by Japanese women married to North Koreans who are currently not allowed to travel out of the closed state. An official in the political section at North Korea's embassy here, where the talks are to take place, earlier blamed the delay on the Japanese side. "There seems to be something not right in Japan's attitude," he said in reply to a telephone call from journalists.

In late 1992, North Korea walked out of rapprochement talks after 22 months when Tokyo raised concerns about the kidnap victims.

The series of meetings here was arranged after North Korea announced a moratorium on missile tests in September and welcomed an all-party delegation from Japan earlier this month. In the first round of the Red Cross meetings here on Sunday, the North Korean side requested Japan resume food aid to the Stalinist state which has been hit by famine after years of droughts and floods.

There is however strong resistance in Japan to such food aid unless Pyongyang makes sincere efforts on the kidnapping issue and halts the development and export of missiles. North Korea test-fired a medium-range missile over Japan in August 1998, prodding Tokyo to impose sanctions against Pyongyang.

It suspended food aid, diplomatic contacts and air traffic and temporarily blocked contributions to an international scheme to supply North Korea with nuclear reactors in exchange for a freeze on its suspected nuclear arms programme. Tokyo lifted the ban on food aid last week and had been hoping to agree a timetable for it to resume here.

The kidnapping and aid questions are so sensitive the two countries set them aside for the Red Cross to handle as humanitarian issues, hoping to keep the diplomatic rapprochement talks on track. North Korea's warmer approach to Japan has been seen by analysts as a gambit to woo food aid as well as compensation for Japan's harsh colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

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