North skipping ‘case closed’ abductions refrain

Kyodo

In what could be a subtle shift in policy, North Korea again did not say the abduction issue was closed during Thursday talks with Japan in Beijing.

Although the Japanese envoy involved declined to reveal the content of the discussions, the first full-fledged bilateral talks since September, he said Pyongyang did not repeat its usual line on its agents’ abductions of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s.

Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, said he will reveal the results of his discussions with Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for normalization talks with Japan, after reporting to his bosses in Tokyo.

“We had in-depth exchanges (Thursday) on issues including the abduction problem,” Saiki told a news conference after the conclusion of the two-day talks.

“I would like to tell you about it after I report to the top officials of the government,” he said.

North Korea has long said the cases brought up by Japan are “fully settled.” But Thursday’s meeting marks the second time North Korea has avoided the phrase since the bilateral negotiations in Ulan Bator in September. The development in the Mongolian capital was interpreted by some as a sign of a subtle policy shift.

Saiki declined to say whether he considered the results of the talks progress.

Japan and North Korea are deeply divided over the number of Japanese who were abducted and what happened to them, including whether they are still alive.

Japan has repeatedly demanded that Pyongyang reopen or newly investigate the cases of 12 of the 17 abductees on Japan’s official list — all except five who were returned to Japan in October 2002.