Abe hopeful but wary of talks with North Korea

Kyodo

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes the resumption of talks between Japan and North Korea and hopes to see fruitful results, he said in a recent interview.

With the talks scheduled to resume in Beijing on Wednesday after a four-year hiatus, Abe said the Japanese delegation should have a firm strategy in place to prevent it from being outmaneuvered by North Korea.

In 2002, Abe accompanied Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Pyongyang for ground-breaking talks with Kim Jong Il, who died last December and was succeeded by Kim Jong Un. Abe was deputy chief Cabinet secretary at the time of the Koizumi trip.

In the upcoming talks, Japan and North Korea are likely to discuss what to do with the remains of thousands of Japanese who died during the war and its aftermath in what is now North Korea. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.

Both sides have characterized the Beijing meeting as a preliminary consultation to fix the agenda and address procedural issues ahead of full-fledged talks.

Asked why North Korea responded to calls to resume talks, Abe said he thinks Pyongyang is hoping to negotiate a change in its tough circumstances.

Abe, who was prime minister from September 2006 to September 2007, also said North Korea may use the talks to try to make Japan ease sanctions imposed over its nuclear arms and missile programs.

Abe deplored the fact that no progress has been made on the abduction issue, although Japan’s approach of pressuring Pyongyang and trying to drag it to the negotiating table has been the right one. He also said the North might even change its attitude because Kim Jong Un was not involved in the abduction issue.

Nevertheless, Japan should continue to put pressure on North Korea, which is facing shortages of fuel and food, Abe said.

Settling the abduction issue would lead to the establishment of diplomatic ties between Japan and North Korea, Abe said, adding that a large amount of taxpayer money would be given to North Korea in the form of economic assistance in an attempt to settle remaining postwar issues.

The government says 17 Japanese nationals were abducted to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

When Koizumi visited Pyongyang in September 2002, North Korea admitted to 13 abductions and said eight of the people were dead. It then allowed five abductees to be repatriated to Japan.

Freighter inspected

Customs authorities have inspected a freighter suspected of carrying items exported from North Korea in the first such search under a new law, sources said Saturday.

The sources said the inspection targeted a ship that entered the Oi Container Terminal in Tokyo on Wednesday night, after customs authorities obtained information that North Korea might have loaded internationally banned items on the vessel.

The authorities found several containers believed to have been exported from North Korea, the sources said, adding the contents included aluminum rods that could have military uses, and steel products. The products bore marks indicating the goods were manufactured in North Korea.

It is the first probe carried out under the cargo inspection law, which came into force in 2010 following a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in 2009 to punish North Korea for its second nuclear test.

The law allows authorities to inspect foreign-flagged vessels suspected of carrying banned materials to or from North Korea.

If the products on the ship are verified as North Korean, Japanese authorities can order the captain to hand them over.