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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

North Korea Apologizes For Japanese Abductions

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- North Korea on Tuesday apologized to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for kidnapping Japanese citizens, promised to extend a moratorium on missile tests and, leaving the door open to talks with the United States, said it would honor commitments on its nuclear program.

The concessions, won by Koizumi at a high-risk summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, cleared the way for a resumption of talks on normalizing ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang, soured for years by bitter history and suspicion.

"It is regretful and I want to frankly apologize," a Japanese government official quoted Kim as saying about the kidnappings, which took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Adding to the rare act of contrition, Kim said he had punished those involved. Koizumi, for his part, apologized for Japan's harsh 35-year colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula that ended in 1945.

Japan had made progress on the issue of the abductees a condition for reopening normalization talks, stalled for nearly two years by a raft of other issues including Pyongyang's demand for reparations for Tokyo's colonial rule.

North Korea had previously denied abducting anyone.

"The two leaders confirmed that it is beneficial for both sides to settle the unfortunate past, resolve concerns and establish fruitful political, economic and cultural relations," the sides said in a joint statement after the talks.

Koizumi's one-day trip had been characterized by some analysts as a make or break move for the Japanese leader, who needed a diplomatic coup to cement his domestic support.

But the implications go far beyond bilateral ties and domestic politics. The talks between the two leaders were being watched around the world for clues as to whether the reclusive communist state, branded by U.S. President George W. Bush as part of an "axis of evil," was emerging from its Cold War cocoon.

Washington had wanted progress on security issues before it too offered to renew talks with North Korea, and Pyongyang went some way toward meeting its demands with an extension of its moratorium on missile tests beyond the deadline of 2003.

Under a 1994 agreement, North Korea pledged to freeze a suspected nuclear weapons program in exchange for two light-water reactors. U.S. officials have accused Pyongyang of violating the agreement by refusing to permit experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, to conduct inspections of its nuclear facilities to verify it does not have stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium.

"Kim said his door is always open for dialogue with the United States and he asked me to convey that message," Koizumi said after the talks.

Eleven people are officially on Tokyo's list of abductees, but intelligence sources have said nearly 40 Japanese may have been kidnapped, apparently to help train North Korean spies.

A Japanese official told reporters that only four out of the 11 people on the list were still alive.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency said Pyongyang would let those still alive return home if they wanted.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung had been hoping Koizumi's trip would support his efforts to keep North-South ties on track.