- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

SEOUL North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sought to end his nation's Cold War battle with Japan by confessing that agents had kidnapped Japanese men, women and children decades earlier and said four victims still alive will be allowed to return home.
The admission, along with an apology from Mr. Kim, came during a daylong visit to Pyongyang by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the first by a Japanese leader to the isolated communist state.
Mr. Kim called the kidnappings "regrettable," promised such actions "would never happen again" and said he had punished the abductors.
The North Korean leader also agreed to several security measures sought by the United States in extending a moratorium on missile tests beyond next year and agreeing to let international inspectors study North Korea's nuclear stockpile to account for fuel that could make atomic bombs.
The United States is expected to set a date shortly for Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to travel to Pyongyang to resume a dialogue that had been suspended after President Bush took office.
Yesterday's summit in Pyongyang was a straightforward affair that contrasted sharply with a June 2000 visit by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and, later that year, by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.
At Japan's insistence, the meeting included no hugs, no banquets, no toasts to future friendship, not even a simple welcoming ceremony to mark Mr. Koizumi's arrival.
The Japanese leader, with a stern gaze, descended the stairs of his 747 jet and shook hands with a handful of gray-suited North Korean officials before driving to a guesthouse on the outskirts of Pyongyang for a day of meetings with Mr. Kim.
Mr. Koizumi, who had put the issue of 11 Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s at the top of the agenda, spoke with reporters before returning to Japan.
"When I think of the families' feelings, there is nothing I can say," Mr. Koizumi said. "My heart is filled with pain."
Beyond the kidnapping issue, he said, "Progress in Japan-North Korean ties do not just benefit the two countries. It contributes greatly to peace and stability of South Korea, the United States, Russia, China, other neighboring nations and the international community as a whole."
In the meetings, Mr. Kim said North Korean agents had abducted Japanese nationals during the 1970s and 1980s and forced them to teach Japanese language and culture to spies.
"It is regretful, and I want to frankly apologize," a Japanese government official quoted Mr. Kim as saying.
The admission marked a stunning reversal for North Korea, which for years had denied any involvement in the abductions. On more than one occasion, it had broken off talks when Japanese negotiators raised the issue.
In a joint statement issued at the close of the summit, Japan apologized for its harsh colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and pledged substantial financial aid to Pyongyang as negotiations on normalizing relations proceeded.
"The Japanese side regards, in a spirit of humility, the facts of history that Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of Korea through its colonial rule in the past, and expressed deep remorse and heartfelt apology," the statement said.
"Both sides shared the recognition that providing economic cooperation after the normalization [of relations], including grant aid, long-term loans with low interest rates and such assistances as humanitarian assistance through international organizations would be consistent with the spirit of this declaration."
North Korea depends on food from outside donors mainly the United States, Japan and South Korea to prevent a recurrence of a famine that is believed to have killed up to 2 million, or one in 10, North Koreans in the 1990s.
The need for food, oil and fertilizer has dominated North Korea's attempts to engage the outside world.
But a series of concessions by the North to rival South Korea in the past month, followed by the summit with Japan, led some analysts to question whether a more basic change was taking place in Pyongyang.
"When you look at all these things together that are taking place in North Korea, it suggests that Kim Jong-il has finally gotten rid of the hard-line old guard and gone beyond the legacy of his father," said Michael Breen, managing director of the Seoul office of the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller.
Mr. Kim's father, Kim Il-sung, ruled North Korea from its founding after World War II until his death in 1994. He created a virulent, anti-Western state that started the Korean War by invading the South in 1950 and sponsored frequent terrorist attacks against South Korean targets until the late 1980s.
"The apology [on the abductions] is such a bold move that those old hard-line forces from the father's time must have been silenced, retired, made irrelevant or convinced to step aside," Mr. Breen said. "If this is true, we're going to see some rapid movement from North Korea in the future."
The kidnapping admission dominated news coverage in Japan, with relatives of the missing holding a tearful press conference after reports of the breakthrough reached home.
On a list of 11 missing Japanese provided by Tokyo, North Korea said six had died, four were still alive and one never had entered the country. Two other Japanese who were abducted in Europe but were not on the list also had died, North Korea said.
Among the dead was Megumi Yokota, who disappeared in 1977 at the age of 13 while walking home from school in the Japanese coastal city of Niigata.
"Unfortunately, the news I received was of her death," said her father, Shigeru, as tears flowed. "But I [also] learned that Megumi got married and had a daughter."
North Korea's official KCNA news agency reported that the North will "take necessary steps to let [the four who are still alive] return home or visit their hometowns if they wish."
On the security front, North Korea agreed to let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency determine what happened to nuclear fuel from a reactor that was shut down in a 1994 deal with the United States, Japan and South Korea.
The three nations are building two modern atomic power plants in North Korea to supply electricity, but the project cannot be completed until North Korea comes clean about its nuclear past.
The Bush administration is also eager to maintain North Korea's freeze on missile tests, which are considered necessary to develop a long-range rocket capable of hitting the United States.
North Korea, which Mr. Bush has labeled part of an "axis of evil," sells missiles, parts and technology to the other two axis members, Iran and Iraq, as well as other rogue states, to earn cash.

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