PYONGYANG – The North Korean official in charge of dealing with Japan has urged incoming Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to work to improve bilateral relations, which he said are at their “worst” level because of Tokyo’s sanctions on the North.
“If Noda’s new government works toward improving ties, we are ready to respond accordingly,” Kim Chol Ho, vice director of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, said in an interview Wednesday in Pyongyang.
His comments were North Korea’s first official response to the next Democratic Party of Japan administration.
Kim expressed a cautious stance toward the Cabinet Noda is expected to launch possibly Friday. Pyongyang has previously expressed disappointment toward the ruling party’s policy on North Korea, claiming it is doing little to improve ties.
“We will keep closely watching Japan’s policy toward North Korea under the new Cabinet,” he said.
“The Japanese side should consider how to improve the sour relations between North Korea and Japan,” Kim said, referring to the sanctions Tokyo imposed on Pyongyang after the North’s first nuclear test in October 2006.
Kim criticized Japan for extending bilateral sanctions against Pyongyang for another year in April and accused the government of oppressing the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), which serves as North Korea’s de facto government mission in Japan in the absence of diplomatic relations.
The sanctions include a ban on North Korean nationals entering Japan and a ban on the North’s ships making port calls.
Kim reiterated Pyongyang’s position that it has settled the issue of its abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and ’80s, adding the North no longer wishes to discuss the matter with Tokyo.
“The abduction issue was settled through our sincere efforts,” he said. “We have nothing to talk about with the Japanese side over the abduction issue.”
Kim said Japan does not want to admit that the abduction issue, which has prevented the two countries from normalizing diplomatic relations, has been settled.
Meanwhile, Kim denied news reports that Hiroshi Nakai, a former state minister in charge of the abduction issue, secretly met in July with Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for normalization talks with Japan, in the Chinese city of Changchun.
“I did not hear that the two had met,” he said. “The ambassador said he has never met with Nakai.”
Japan and North Korea have not held intergovernmental talks since the last round in Shenyang, northeastern China, in August 2008.
Asked about his views on Kim Jong Un, the heir apparent to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Kim said, “The comrade is very modest, he does not stick to formality and he excels both academically and at sports.”
Bangkok salutes Noda
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has sent a congratulatory message to Prime Minister-elect Yoshihiko Noda, pledging to work closely with his administration.
In the letter sent Wednesday, Yingluck referred to the long relationship between Tokyo and Bangkok, saying “centuries of close ties” have created an important partnership between the two countries.
“Our government will continue to work closely to further promote cooperation in issues of common interest, such as further ASEAN integration (and) the development of the Mekong subregion,” she wrote, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.