Officials from Japan and North Korea failed to reach an agreement on whether to reinvestigate the abduction of Japanese nationals, following three days of “serious discussions” in Stockholm.
However, the two sides plan to continue talks on that issue and others, a senior Japanese official suggested on Wednesday.
Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, told reporters he raised the issue of the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s, and that North Korea did not reject talks on the matter as it did during the previous session in late March in Beijing.
Asked whether the two countries reached an agreement on reinvestigating the abduction cases, Ihara said only that the two sides planned to further talks.
“We will continue consultations with North Korea (on the abduction issue), so I would like to refrain from referring to the substance of discussions like who said what,” Ihara said. “We had serious discussions this time, too. I should refrain from making further assessment from my side.”
Observers were keen to learn how North Korea would respond to Japan’s demand, made during the last round of talks in Beijing, for a reinvestigation and for abductees to be returned to Japan. Pyongyang has said the abduction issue has already been settled.
Ihara said Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for talks to normalize relations with Japan, expressed concern about the auction sale of a building housing the Tokyo headquarters of the pro-Pyongyang group Chongryon.
The headquarters has functioned as the de facto North Korean embassy in the absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Ihara reiterated Tokyo’s position that the government cannot intervene in a judicial process in Japan under the principle of separation of powers. Failure to solicit support from the Japanese government on the continued use of the Chongryon headquarters may have hardened North Korea’s position on the abduction issue.
The Tokyo High Court recently dismissed an appeal filed by Chongryon against the sale of the property to a Japanese real estate company, after the property was ordered sold to raise money to cover debts left by a failed credit union serving pro-Pyongyang Koreans residing in Japan. Chongryon has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.
Among other issues, Ihara called for North Korea’s restraint from conducting provocative acts in relation to its nuclear and missile development programs that would escalate tensions in East Asia.
The two governments will discuss the timing and location of a next round of talks through their embassies in Beijing, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry official.