North open to talks on abductees: Ihara

Kyodo

North Korea appears open to restarting discussions on the abduction issue, a senior Japanese official said after two days of talks with North Korean officials in Beijing.

They “did not appear to reject discussions” on the issue, Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, told journalists after speaking with Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for talks on normalizing relations with Japan.

Ihara said he lodged a firm protest against the North’s launch of two Rodong medium-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan last week.

He also called for restraint by North Korea after it threatened on Sunday to conduct a “new form of nuclear test” in response to a U.N. Security Council condemnation issued after Pyongyang’s test-firing of the missiles.

Ihara said he and Song agreed to continue negotiations on the abductions and other issues.

In the first formal bilateral talks since November 2012, attention was focused on whether North Korea would agree to fulfill its 2008 promise to reinvestigate the North’s admitted abductions of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s.

Observers were watching to see if there would be any change in Pyongyang’s oft-repeated position that the issue has been settled. The issue has prevented the two from forming formal diplomatic ties.

At a news conference Monday in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to reveal details of the talks, but said Japan is negotiating the abduction, nuclear and missile issues “in line with our country’s basic policy.”

Under the policy of “dialogue and pressure,” Japan, in collaboration with other regional powers such as the United States and South Korea, is trying to comprehensively resolve the abduction issue and North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development.

The talks come amid recent mixed signals from North Korea over its willingness to re-engage in diplomacy.

But just hours after Ihara and Song began talking Sunday, Pyongyang threatened a “new form of nuclear test” after the UNSC condemned last week’s Rodong launches.

After the first day of talks at the North Korean Embassy, Ihara, without revealing details, said he had “earnest and frank” discussions with Song in a session of four hours.

Ihara may have called for reinvestigation of the abduction issue while alluding to the possibility of lifting some sanctions Japan has unilaterally imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missile development programs.

North Korea admitted in 2002 to taking 13 Japanese. Japan officially lists 17 as abducted by North Korea, but suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances. Five were repatriated in 2002.