TOKYO - Japan and North Korea are to meet in Mongolia next week, a Japanese government spokesman said Friday, with talks among very senior bureaucrats a sign of progress between the long-time foes. The fresh talks will be held Thursday and Friday in Ulan Bator, building on an August meeting in Beijing that marked the first official sit down between the two sides in four years. “We will discuss matters of mutual concern on a wide-ranging basis,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a regular briefing. “We are hopeful in that the level of talks will be one step higher than the last time.” The August meeting was headed by the director of a division from Japan’s foreign ministry and his North Korean counterpart.
In Ulan Bator, the Japanese side will be led by Shinsuke Sugiyama, head of the ministry’s Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau.
Tokyo is expected to step up its demand that Pyongyang come clean on its kidnappings of Japanese nationals during the Cold War to train its spies in Japanese language and customs.
The issue has huge traction in Japan, where it is seen as prime among obstacles to the normalisation of ties after decades of mistrust.
North Korea insists the abduction issue has been resolved with the return of several abductees and announcements that others have died.
The two sides met initially to focus on the repatriation of remains of Japanese who died on the Korean peninsula during and immediately after World War II.
They have no formal diplomatic relations and have long been at odds over numerous issues, including the seizures and the legacy of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.
North Korea’s nuclear tests and a series of missile launches have also discouraged rapprochement.
Japan is involved in six-party talks with North Korea, which also include South Korea, the US, China and Russia, aimed at removing Pyongyang’s nuclear stockpile.