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Report: Japan Mulls N. Korea Talks

December 11, 1999

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan is considering holding preliminary talks on setting up diplomatic ties with communist North Korea as early as Dec. 20, a newspaper reported today.

The talks would be held in Beijing and involve senior officials from both sides, the national Asahi Shimbun reported. They would discuss resuming talks on normalizing relations, which broke down in 1992 over allegations that North Korean agents kidnapped Japanese citizens.

Kyodo News service also reported today that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi will sign an agreement by the end of the month to help build two nuclear power reactors in North Korea.

The offer by the three major Japanese companies are part of a 1994 deal to provide nuclear power plants to North Korea in exchange for a promise that it would stop its nuclear weapons program.

The offices of Mitsubishi Heavy, Toshiba and Hitachi were closed today and officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

In June, Japan approved a $1 billion contribution to the nuclear power plant project, known as KEDO, or the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which is estimated to cost $4.6 billion.

South Korea will be the biggest contributor to the project with $3.2 billion, while the United States will contribute $115 million and the European Union $80 million.

Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi stressed the importance of normalizing ties with Pyongyang in a speech today at the United Nations University in Tokyo.

``Our basic policy is to correct a relationship that has not been normal since the end of World War II,″ he was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

He added that debate within the government on sanctions against North Korea is progressing. The sanctions were imposed after Pyongyang tested a ballistic missile last year.

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