Senior Japanese and North Korean officials may have met in Hanoi recently in what would be their first contact since the launch in December 2012 of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, a diplomatic source said Tuesday.
If the meeting did take place, Tokyo is almost certain to have asked Pyongyang to resume its probe into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents decades ago.
Junichi Ihara, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, accompanied by Keiichi Ono, chief of the bureau’s Northeast Asia Division, were in the Vietnamese capital on Saturday and Sunday, and a North Korean official was also there last weekend, according to the source.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denied any meeting took place.
“We are aware of media reports, but there is no fact like that,” he said. “Our government wants to solve the abduction issue. We are looking at every possible way under Prime Minister Abe, who is strongly determined to solve it.”
Glyn Davies, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, told reporters in Beijing he has heard nothing about a possible meeting.
Davies was in the Chinese capital for talks with his counterpart, Wu Dawei, on the situation in Pyongyang since the execution last month of leader Kim Jong Un’s once-powerful uncle and how to deal with its nuclear ambitions.
In November 2012, under the previous administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Japan agreed with North Korea in a meeting of senior officials in Ulan Bator to continue talks on the matter.
Japan postponed a follow-up meeting scheduled for Dec. 5 and 6, 2012, in Beijing after North Korea announced Dec. 1 that the country would launch a rocket carrying an “Earth observation satellite.”
The long-range rocket was launched 11 days later, with many countries viewing it as a test of the North’s ballistic missile technology, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
North Korea last week proposed to South Korea resuming the reunions of families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War amid the stalemate over the restart of talks with the United States seen by Pyongyang as crucial.
Experts on international affairs say North Korea may also be prepared to go to the negotiation table with Japan.