Japan is considering the resumption of bilateral talks with North Korea in hopes of making progress on the abduction issue following a recent trip to Pyongyang by one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s top advisers, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday.
“We are exploring every possibility (to solve the issue),” Suga told a news conference, including resuming the talks would be an option.
Suga’s comment followed the recent visit to Pyongyang by Isao Iijima, an adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Iijima met with senior North Korean officials during the trip, explaining to them Abe’s determination to address the abductions, according to Japanese officials.
“We will solve the abduction issue with all national efforts. That is the policy of the Abe Cabinet,” Suga told a Diet committee session earlier in the day.
If resumed, however, Japan will face the difficult task of balancing the international coordination against North Korea’s nuclear threat with Tokyo’s desire to engage Pyongyang on the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the Stalinist state.
Iijima’s visit drew the ire of the United States and South Korea as Japan and the two allies had maintained a united front in their efforts not to engage the North in dialogue until Pyongyang took steps toward returning to denuclearization talks.
Iijima briefed Abe on Tuesday about his discussions with senior North Korean officials, telling reporters after the meeting at the prime minister’s office, “I think the prime minister will put (his belief) into action with unwavering resolve.”
The bilateral talks would cover a reinvestigation into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s, and the possible return to Japan of Japanese women who accompanied their Korean spouses to North Korea decades ago.
Such talks would be held in a third country, possibly Mongolia, sources said.
Iijima indicated to reporters the same day that Abe would seek to make progress on the abduction issue — a major obstacle that has prevented the two nations from normalizing ties, after being briefed on the series of meetings in Pyongyang during Iijima’s four-day trip.
Suga said that the Abe, who has pledged to resolve the abduction issue during his term as prime minister, “will seek every possibility” in breaking the gridlock.
Also Tuesday, Keiji Furuya, minister in charge of the abduction issue, said Tokyo urged Pyongyang to return all Japanese nationals who were believed kidnapped by agents of the North, in addition to those officially recognized by Tokyo as abductees.
Counting suspected cases investigated independently by a civic group, the potential number of abductees totals more than 400. The government currently has placed 17 people on its list of abductees. Pyongyang claims there are no abductees still alive in the North.
“Our basic policy is getting back all people abducted by North Korea,” Furuya said on a television program. “Mr. Iijima delivered that message.”
Iijima visited Pyongyang from May 14-17. The senior officials he met while in the country included the country’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam.
Iijima was a top aide to then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, accompanying him in 2002 and 2004 to Pyongyang for talks with Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader at the time. The September 2002 talks ended with the return to Japan of five abductees the following month.
North Korea has stuck to its stance that the abduction issue has already been resolved, much to the consternation of the relatives of abductees yet to be accounted for, including Megumi Yokota, who was abducted in 1977 at the age of 13.