FUKUOKA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday he is ready to promote talks with North Korea to resolve the abduction issue after Pyongyang blew the lid off of what was supposed to be a secret trip by one of his closest advisers.
“I hope I can promote negotiations and dialogue,” Abe said in the city of Fukuoka. “I will continue pressuring North Korea as long as the abduction issue remains unresolved.”
His comments came after North Korean television revealed Tuesday that communications guru Isao Iijima was making a hush-hush visit but broadcast live footage of it upon his arrival.
So few of Abe’s staff knew about the trip that the government admitted it could not “reasonably explain” Iijima’s presence there after it was brought to the attention of the United States and South Korea — Japan’s oblivious allies in the trilateral strategy to denuclearize the North.
During the talks, which began Tuesday, Iijima supposedly demanded that Pyongyang return all Japanese abductees kidnapped in the past, hand over their abductors and provide a full account of the incidents. However, a report on Saturday also said he brought up nuclear weapons.
According to a Japanese government source, North Korean officials told Iijima that they would report the Japan’s demands to their leader, Kim Jong Un.
Abe said he had been briefed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga about Iijima’s secret trip, when ended Saturday night.
“I cannot reveal the content. I will talk with Mr. Iijima, if necessary,” Abe said.
“I am determined to achieve the return of all abductees, hunt for the truth of the abductions and secure the handover of the abductors under my Cabinet.
“I will comprehensively resolve the issues of abduction as well as (Pyongyang’s) nuclear and missile programs in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration.”
In the declaration, signed in Pyongyang in 2002 by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the two countries agreed to work toward the normalization of relations.
As for Iijima’s trip, which raised eyebrows in Washington and Seoul, economic revitalization minister Akira Amari said in an NHK talk show that Japan will take the initiative in resolving the abduction issue.
“It is an extremely important issue separate from the interests of other countries,” Amari said. “It is an area in which Japan should take the initiative.”
Iijima’s trip surprised the United States and South Korea, which have been working with Japan to coordinate their policy response to the strident North’s nuclear and missile programs.
“Prime Minister Abe showed the resolve to move forward, even by a step or two, the abduction issue on his own when he formed the Cabinet,” Amari said when asked about the purpose of Iijima’s visit. He also said that he hoped the meaning of the trip would be inferred, since “government ministers aren’t supposed to comment on it.”
The abduction issue remains a major obstacle to normalizing relations between Japan and North Korea.