Japan, N.K. envoys may hold secret talks soon

Kyodo

Japanese and North Korean diplomats are exploring the possibility of secretly meeting in the not-so-distant future to capitalize on their first formal talks since November 2012, a source familiar with the situation said.

The rendezvous could occur in the next couple of days in China or elsewhere, the source said Saturday.

An official involved in Japan-North Korea relations did not rule out the chance of the diplomats having face-to-face contact soon.

“There is a secret part in negotiations,” the official said.

Senior diplomats from both sides held a two-day meeting in Beijing on March 30 and agreed to carry on with governmental talks, but without a definite time frame.

At the meeting, North Korea said it was open to discussing the abduction issue and other outstanding problems. The two countries have never formed diplomatic relations.

Unlike last time, if the secret meeting takes place, the two sides may need to hurriedly coordinate on specific issues before moving on to the next stage.

If all goes well, Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, will likely attend a secret meeting with the North. Ihara headed the Japanese delegation last time.

It is not known who would represent the North, which sent Song Il Ho, ambassador for talks on normalizing ties with Japan, to lead it at the Beijing meeting.

While North Korea has renewed provocations in recent weeks, including a threat to hold a “new form of nuclear test,” the two countries also held informal talks in Shenyang, China, on two separate occasions in March.

For Japan, making tangible progress on the abduction issue is the priority.

North Korea promised in 2008 to reinvestigate cases on Japanese it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s, but the promise has yet to be met.