- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

SEOUL Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi lands in Pyongyang today for a one-day summit marking North Korea's most ambitious opening to an outside world changed by the war against terrorism.

The meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Mr. Koizumi, who returns home tonight, will focus largely on regional concerns, such as the fate of 11 Japanese who are believed to have been kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago and whisked away in submarines to teach at North Korean spy schools.

But for Washington, Mr. Koizumi's visit represents a potential icebreaker for the Bush administration, which lately has signaled a willingness to negotiate with Pyongyang despite President Bush naming it in the "axis of evil."

"Koizumi is helping both North Korea and the U.S. to save face," said Kim Songhee, a longtime North Korea watcher who works as a consultant with Toffler Associates in Seoul.

Mr. Koizumi has said his meetings with Mr. Kim will also focus on security concerns that Japan shares with both Washington and South Korea. These include ballistic missiles, missile parts and technology that the communist state continues to sell to clients in the Muslim world, including the other two axis-of-evil members, Iran and Iraq.

The day of meetings will offer clues to both Washington and its ally South Korea on whether Pyongyang's latest moves to interact with outsiders marks a shift in policy.

High-level contacts by Pyongyang and its three main Cold War adversaries the United States, South Korea and Japan had been largely frozen for the past two years.

Last month, however, negotiators from North and South Korea signed a flurry of agreements on cultural exchanges, reunions of families separated by the Korean War and a plan to relink a railroad that would give South Korean companies access through Russia to Western Europe.

Also in August, Pyongyang extended its invitation to Mr. Koizumi and asked the Bush administration to send a senior envoy to resume a dialogue that had been frozen since Mr. Bush took office.

Mr. Koizumi's arrival today was preceded by reports in the Japanese press of a pending deal between the two leaders on steps to normalize relations. North Korea wants a formal apology from Japan for its 1910-1945 rule of the Korean Peninsula and reparations.

Though Japan refuses to pay reparations, it did give South Korea $500 million in economic aid in 1965, the year it signed a peace treaty with the South. Analysts say a comparable amount in today's dollars would exceed $10 billion.

In Japan, the issue of the 11 missing Japanese is particularly sensitive, in many ways similar to the POW-MIA issue that for years blocked normalization of ties between the United States and Vietnam.

"I think the prime minister will deal with the issue as an entry point of negotiations," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said in a meeting with the families of missing Japanese in Tokyo yesterday.

"Without solving the kidnapping issue, progress will not be made in the Japan-North Korea talks," Mr. Fukuda said.

Japan and North Korea have never had diplomatic ties, and normalization talks, which began in 1991, have collapsed on several occasions over the abductions.

Japanese news reports also said Mr. Koizumi would press Mr. Kim to extend a moratorium on missile tests announced during the later days of the Clinton administration beyond its scheduled January 2003 expiration date.

North Korea's development of long-range missiles capable of hitting the United States is a key factor in Mr. Bush's push to develop a national missile defense to protect the United States from attacks by terrorists and rogue states.

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