Japan, North hold secret talks in China

Kyodo

Japan and North Korea secretly made contact Monday in China, where they are believed to have discussed the abduction issue, sources at the prime minister’s office said.

The talks — the first between the two countries since Kim Jong Un took power following the death of his father Kim Jong Il in December — are scheduled to end Tuesday. But that depends on how they go, the sources said.

The government regards the North’s participation as a sign its new leadership “may be interested in improving relations with Japan through progress on the abduction issue,” one source said. The long-standing issue is preventing Japan and North Korea from normalizing diplomatic relations.

The talks are being handled by Hiroshi Nakai, former state minister in charge of the abduction issue, and a North Korean delegation thought to be led by Song Il Ho, ambassador for normalization talks with Japan.

Japan and North Korea have not held intergovernmental talks since August 2008, but it is uncertain whether progress can be made if the talks resume as the North considers the issue settled.