Remains-retrieval talks with North Korea set for Aug. 29

Japan hopes to raise abduction issue again amid signs of thaw

Kyodo

Tokyo will resume talks with Pyongyang on Aug. 29 for the first time in four years, mainly in hopes of retrieving the remains of Japanese who died in the North near the 1945 end of Japan’s colonial rule of the peninsula, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Tuesday.

Fujimura said the talks, to be held in Beijing, also will “definitely” include North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals.

He characterized the talks as “preliminary consultations,” where various outstanding issues between the two countries will be sorted out and will be followed “promptly” by full-scale consultations.

“I don’t think it will take many days” before the two countries enter into real talks, he said.

Japan is likely to be represented by Shinsuke Sugiyama, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, while North Korea is still arranging who will attend, Fujimura said.

The government-level talks will be the first since the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009.

Topics to be discussed are to include visits by Japanese to their relatives’ burial sites in North Korea.

The bilateral talks were last held in August 2008 over the abduction issue.

Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic relations and long-standing disputes over the abductions have been an obstacle to the normalization of bilateral ties.

The Japanese side hopes North Korea will soften its stance now that the country is led by Kim Jong Un, who became leader after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December, and is aiming to reach an agreement with Pyongyang toward resolving the long-standing abduction issue.

Some people within Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration hoping to capitalize on the talks to buoy the Cabinet, which has seen its support ratings slumping below 30 percent, according to sources.

Red Cross officials from Japan and North Korea agreed last Friday to ask their governments to join negotiations over the retrieval of the remains of Japanese who died during the final phase of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and the following confusion, as well as the visits by Japanese to their relatives’ burial sites.

The meeting was the first between the two Red Cross societies in 10 years, a sign of a possible improvement in relations between the two countries.