North links relations to de facto embassy’s fate

Kyodo

A ranking North Korean diplomat said Tuesday that whether his country and Japan can improve their relations hinges on the fate of Pyongyang’s de facto embassy building in Tokyo.

“Without resolving this issue, there is no need to make progress on Korea-Japan relations,” Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for talks on normalizing ties with Japan, told reporters at Beijing Capital International Airport before flying back to Pyongyang.

Song, who took part in a two-day meeting with Japanese diplomats through Monday in the Chinese capital, was referring to the possibility that the pro-North Korean group Chongryon will be evicted from its Tokyo headquarters, which is the closest thing Pyongyang has to an embassy in Japan.

Song said he expressed strong concern during the meeting over a court’s decision last month to allow the sale of the property, which had been put up for auction due to financial problems, to a realtor.

But he also said that while addressing a range of issues during the meeting, the first formal bilateral talks since November 2012, the Japanese representatives were “cooperative.”

Song declined comment on North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, a key issue for Tokyo, though the Japanese and North Korean officials agreed to maintain their discussions on the abduction issue and other outstanding problems.

They also agreed to discuss the timing of the next round of talks through their embassies in Beijing.

The Japanese delegation was led by Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry.

The first official talks since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration was formed in December 2012 were held amid recent mixed signals from North Korea over its willingness to re-engage in diplomacy.

Pyongyang is blending increasingly conciliatory gestures toward Japan with provocative actions targeting South Korea and the United States.

Under the policy of “dialogue and pressure,” Japan, in collaboration with the United States and South Korea, is aiming to comprehensively resolve the abduction issue and get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and missile programs.