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Unity over N. Korea to be key topic in Koizumi-Roh talks.

TOKYO, Feb. 19 Kyodo

Talks next week between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President-elect Roh Moo Hyun are expected to focus on how to jointly deal with North Korea and settling rows related to history between the two sides, Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said Wednesday.

The leaders will also discuss how to boost economic ties, but few surprises are likely to come out of the meeting on Tuesday, given that it will be held shortly after the inauguration of Roh, who officials describe as a new face on the bilateral diplomatic stage.

Koizumi will leave Tokyo on Monday evening and shortly arrive in Seoul, the officials said.

After attending the inauguration which starts at 11 a.m. at South Korea's National Assembly and holding the summit, Koizumi will return to Tokyo on Tuesday evening.

No statement or similar documents are likely to be released after the talks, the officials said.

On North Korea, Koizumi and Roh will discuss how to erase concerns over Pyongyang's alleged nuclear weapons development programs in collaboration with the United States.

Roh is believed to basically agree on the importance of maintaining the tripartite alliance between Tokyo, Seoul and Washington to settle the issue peacefully.

But it is uncertain whether Roh will fully echo Koizumi's pro-U.S. tone over the issue given anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea, fueled after a U.S. armored vehicle hit and killed two South Korean junior high school girls on a road in June last year.

The U.S. Forces in South Korea said last November that the soldier who was allegedly responsible for the accident was acquitted, a decision that sparked outrage among many South Koreans.

The Japanese premier plans to explain to Roh Japan's stance on bilateral ties with North Korea, noting that the settlement of Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese people decades ago is a prerequisite for normalizing the ties, they said.

Koizumi will tell Roh that quick development in the Tokyo-Pyongyang talks is unlikely in the near future due to their wide differences on the kidnappings and to intensifying tension over the nuclear issue.

Koizumi and Roh are also expected to discuss disputes related to the Japanese premier's contentious visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war criminals along with the war dead.

Unlike past Japanese premiers, Koizumi has paid homage to the shrine frequently -- three times since taking office in April 2001.

Koizumi says he goes to the Tokyo shrine to renew his resolve to work for a world free of war, but his visits have provoked anger in neighboring countries such as South Korea and China where memories of Japanese military aggression during and before World War II are still fresh.

Koizumi and Roh will also discuss how to strengthen economic ties between the two countries including the possibility of a bilateral free-trade agreement (FTA) in the future.

Currently, Japanese and South Korean people from governmental, private and academic sectors are discussing the feasibility of a bilateral FTA in a panel set up under an agreement between Koizumi and outgoing President Kim Dae Jung in March last year.

The two leaders will talk about measures to boost exchanges through sports and events for youth people, the officials said.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Geographic Code:9NORT
Date:Feb 24, 2003
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