When visiting North Korea recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s adviser called for setting a “deadline” in bilateral talks aimed at resolving the thorny issue of the abductions of Japanese nationals, sources said.
The new details revealed Friday shed more light on the meetings between Isao Iijima and senior North Korean officials that took place during his unannounced, but widely reported, four-day trip to Pyongyang from May 14.
The North, for its part, demanded that Japan lift its original sanctions imposed on the communist country and asked it to permit the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) to continue to use the premises of its Tokyo headquarters and that the site not be sold, the sources said.
Chongryon’s head office, whose premises are subject to a foreclosure sale, serve as North Korea’s de facto diplomatic mission in Japan. Pyongyang is thought to be desperate to keep the building.
The North Korean side replied to Iijima that it will convey Japan’s intentions to leader Kim Jong Un. But it remains unclear whether the North is ready to change its long-held position that the abduction issue has already been resolved, the sources added. Pyongyang maintains that no abductees remain alive in North Korea.
The exchange is still expected to spur bargaining from both sides toward the resumption of governmental talks aimed at resolving the abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, the major obstacle to the two countries normalizing diplomatic ties.
Bilateral talks have been suspended since North Korea launched a long-range rocket in early December. After Pyongyang stated its plans, Tokyo postponed a planned meeting between senior diplomats of the two countries in Beijing shortly afterward.
Iijima called for a deadline in meetings with Kim Yong Il, a secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party who doubles as director of the party’s international department, and Song Il Ho, ambassador for talks to normalize relations with Japan, according to the sources.
The setting of a deadline for talks on the abduction issue fits in with Abe’s pledge to resolve the matter during his time at the helm.
Present in a separate meeting between Iijima and North Korea’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s legislature, was an official in charge of Chongryon at the intelligence arm of the Korean Workers’ Party, the sources said.
The continued use of the Chongryon building is believed to have been discussed at the meeting.