North Korea trip not a winner in Japan
By Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's summit on Tuesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may have been an ice-breaking political feat, but it brought only heartbreak to those Japanese who got confirmation that their kin had indeed been abducted by Pyongyang.

Because of the uproar in Japan after North Korea's admission for the first time that its agents had kidnapped Japanese nationals in the 1970s and '80s - a long-festering row between Tokyo and Pyongyang - Koizumi took pains to speak cautiously about the historic meeting between the two countries' leaders.

While improving ties with North Korea was important, Koizumi said, he was "shocked" by Kim's admission about the abductions. "My heart aches when I consider how the families must feel," Koizumi said.

Koizumi flew into the North Korean capital at 9:15am on Tuesday for a summit with the reclusive Kim, marking the first meeting between the two and the first time that a Japanese head of state has visited the Stalinist nation.

At the end of the day, Koizumi brought home astonishing news - North Korea had agreed to an indefinite suspension of its missile program and accepted nuclear inspections. Japan apologized for its occupation of the Korean Peninsula in 1910-45, while North Korea dropped its demand for war reparations.

But what has resonated in Japan is Kim's confirmation of the abductions of Japanese nationals - Tokyo says there were 11 of them - who were forced to teach Pyongyang's spies how to speak Japanese and act like Japanese in order to infiltrate the country.

Kim also said six of the abducted Japanese were already dead.

"We will not forgive the North Koreans for this terrible crime," sobbed Shigeru Yokota, who on Tuesday got confirmation that his daughter Megumi, abducted on her way home from school in 1977 when she was 13, was indeed dead.

"I want North Korea to fully investigate how Megumi went to North Korea, how she got married, and how she died," sobbed Yokota.

At least four of the kidnapped Japanese are alive and arrangements might be made to bring them back to Japan, said Kim. Koizumi quoted Kim as saying the abductions had been carried out by "elements in the military".

Pyongyang says the abducted Japanese perished because of either "illness or natural disasters".

Akihito Arimoto, whose daughter, Keiko, 23, was kidnapped in 1983 while studying in London, said: "We are also angry at the Japanese government and also hold them responsible for the deaths of our loved ones."

Analysts say the families' anger and sweeping public sympathy for them have marred Koizumi's historic trip to North Korea, despite its larger ramifications for Asian and international security.

Despite Tuesday's summit, ties between Japan and North Korea, frosty and suspicious for decades, are unlikely to warm overnight.

"There is no doubt the Japanese government will be hampered in its attempts to normalize relations with North Korea because of the terrible news of the abductions," said Professor Masao Okonogi, an expert on the Korean Peninsula at Keio University.

Koizumi's arrival in Pyongyang was kept low-key, and Kim was not present to greet him. When the two finally appeared publicly before the cameras, they looked tense.

In the joint communique issued by the two leaders, they spelled out a deal that, if carried out smoothly, promises to usher in a new era for the two countries with the promise of regional stability.

The broad accord not only covered the abductions, but two other contentious issues - the freezing of North Korea's missile program and its acceptance of nuclear inspections.

Koizumi, despite his somber expression after the news of the abductions, stated clearly during a news conference that he believes his visit opens a new chapter in regional security.

"The summit was a success for the fact that North Korea for the first time disclosed information and accepted and apologized for the abductions," he said.

The deal on both the missile and nuclear-inspection issues "signals the beginning of a thawing of relations between the two countries", said Koizumi, who is likely to win diplomatic points for influencing North Korea, which has been emerging from isolation in the past two years.

On North Korea's demand for compensation for Japan's colonization, Tokyo on Tuesday agreed to provide it with grants, low-interest loans and humanitarian aid through international organizations on condition that the two countries normalize diplomatic ties. Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties, their relations stalled by their bitter historical past. Further talks are scheduled next month.

The joint statement also said that in normalizing ties, the parties would abandon each other's claims on national and individual assets prior to the end of World War II.

Still, analysts contend that Koizumi has to proceed cautiously in the diplomatic advances he made Tuesday, given the sensitive, emotional issue of the abductions in Japan.

A group of Diet (parliament) members supporting the relatives released a statement condemning the abductions as "state terrorism" and demanded that the Japanese government take severe punitive steps against Pyongyang, including the suspension of food aid to North Korea.

"Normalizing ties [with North Korea] is out of the question," said one of the lawmakers.

The United States and South Korea - which, together with Japan compose a trilateral diplomatic effort toward Pyongyang - welcomed the visit.

South Korean media quoted President Kim Dae-jung as saying that the summit was a success, as economic aid to Pyongyang would ease Seoul's burden of coping with refugees from the North.

The United States, which has put North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, in the "axis of evil", welcomed Kim Jong-il's pledge to freeze the nation's missile program.

But Professor Teruo Komaki of Kokugakuin University says the effect of the summit on Japan-Korea ties will be tested by opposition at home. Warned Komaki: "There is going to be anger against Koizumi and the Foreign Ministry, which has already been accused of using the abduction issue for political advancement."

(Inter Press Service)
Sep 19, 2002

Koizumi's 'bold gamble' in Pyongyang (Sep 17, '02)

Pyongyang: Koizumi needs more than handshakes (Sep 17, '02)


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