Japan-N. Korea disputes snag nuclear talks

The six-party talks aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear issue ended in Beijing July 20 without agreement on a timetable for full denuclearization. The meeting took place shortly after the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that North Korea had shut down its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

While a generally positive atmosphere prevailed at the discussions, and the states agreed to meet again in September, North Korea has said Japanese provocations may wreck the talks.

At the previous round of negotiations, the United States and Japan agreed to work to fully normalize relations between themselves and North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

According to the DPRK, the main problem that needs to be resolved regarding Japan is the Japanese government’s attitude toward the “comfort women” of World War II. During that war, Japan occupied Korea, China and other places, and forced thousands of women to become sex slaves for the Japanese army.

Although the Japanese army’s use of “comfort women” has been documented as fact, and described as such in a recent U.S. congressional resolution calling on Japan to make amends, the Japanese government has refused to make restitution or acknowledge the practice as a war crime.

While ducking its WWII crimes, Japan has focused on an issue regarding the abduction of about a dozen Japanese citizens to the DPRK about two decades ago, an issue which the North Koreans regard as solved.

While not attempting to downplay the significance of the abductions, the DPRK accused Japan, a close U.S. ally, of hypocrisy, noting that it is choosing to focus on an issue that involves a relatively small number of people while disregarding the period in WWII “when they [the Japanese] committed such hideous crimes against humanity as forcibly drafting more than 8.4 million Koreans, killing more than 1 million and forcing 200,000 Korean women into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese Army.”

The DPRK’s foreign ministry recently released a statement detailing the history of the abduction issue.

In 1999, the Japanese government raised the issue with North Korea’s leadership in Pyongyang, saying that it believed North Korea had abducted at least 16 Japanese citizens for the purpose of having them teach the Japanese language and culture to political intelligence schools. The DPRK organized a nationwide investigation in April 2002, and found that certain individuals had been responsible for abducting 13 people in the 1970s and 1980s, five of whom were still alive.

Expressing regret, the DPRK sent the five survivors to visit their hometowns in Japan in October 2002, and later allowed all five of the sons and daughters of the survivors to travel to Japan as well. The 10 remain in Japan today.

Further, the DPRK “provided every facility” to a Japanese team, which include medical experts, political officials and police, to visit North Korea and confirm the fates of the eight who had passed away. The Korean husband of Megumi Yokota, one of the abductees, in accordance with the wishes of her parents, worked to have her remains sent to Japan.

Japan then accused North Korea of sending false remains, and to support its claim sent evidence to the DPRK. However, after reviewing the evidence, the North Korean authorities noted that it was self-contradictory, and was not even signed by the proper authorities.

The DPRK foreign ministry statement said that the extreme right-wing leadership of Japan has been using the abduction issue in order to make it impossible for the DPRK to normalize relations with Japan, so as to torpedo the six-party talks, keep the nuclear issue unresolved and justify Japan’s increasing militarization.

In other areas of the talks, it was agreed that North Korea would be provided with emergency fuel aid in order to compensate for its shutdown reactor, and that the DPRK would eventually shut down its entire nuclear program, once light water nuclear reactors — not capable of producing nuclear bombs — were provided.

The U.S. pledged to continue to work with the DPRK to normalize relations. However, no timetable was set, nor was the exact order of who would do what spelled out.

Both Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator, and Kim Gye Gwan, on the North Korean side, said that the talks went well. Hill said he expected much of the work to be complete by 2008.

dmargolis @pww.org