Tokyo will never provide economic aid to North Korea unless Pyongyang safely returns all the Japanese nationals its agents abducted to North Korea, the Cabinet minister in charge of the issue said in a written statement Wednesday released after a report surfaced suggesting some victims may still be alive.
Keiji Furuya released the statement amid concern that Japan may strike diplomatic compromises with the North to resolve the long-standing abduction issue, long a focus of public attention and sympathy.
But Fuji TV reported earlier in the day that North Korean officials, during unofficial talks with Japan in October and November, indicated it may return some abductees in exchange for economic assistance from Tokyo.
“I reaffirm here again the Cabinet of (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe will never provide any humanitarian assistance (unless all of the abductees are returned home safely),” Furuya stated, reiterating the government position that Japan will seek a “comprehensive resolution” to the abduction issue as well as to the North’s nuclear weapons and missile threats.
He was apparently trying to ease concerns by the United States and South Korea, which along with Japan have been jointly putting pressure on the North to drop its nuclear arms and ballistic missile programs.
Earlier Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo may resume diplomatic talks with Pyongyang, saying Abe “is grappling with the abduction issue” with firm determination.
The government will “explore all measures available” to seek the return of the Japanese abductees, possibly including resumption of diplomatic talks with the North, Suga said.
Last fall, when Yoshihiko Noda of the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan was the prime minister, the government examined whether Pyongyang’s overture to return some abductees was reliable, Fuji TV reported, noting Tokyo eventually cut off contacts after Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile in December.
Pyongyang often approached Japan in the past by dangling the resumption of talks over the abduction issue when it faced a stalemate in diplomacy with the U.S. Pundits say the North is now just repeating the same tactic.
Isao Iijima, special adviser to Abe, made a surprise trip to Pyongyang last week, raising speculation that the North is trying to drive a wedge in the U.S.-Japan-South Korea alliance.