Tests raise tension before next round of abduction talks

North fires two missiles into sea

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

North Korea reportedly launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on Sunday morning, boosting tensions ahead of another round of talks Tuesday with Tokyo on the abduction issue.

According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, South Korean military officials said two missiles with a range of 500 km were fired from Wonsan, on North Korea’s eastern coast, between 4:50 a.m. and 4:58 a.m.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry official told Kyodo News that the launch was part of routine military exercises and would have “no influence” on the abduction talks.

The missiles were probably fired to show off Pyongyang’s military might ahead of a visit to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 3 and 4, Yonhap quoted South Korean military sources as saying.

The launch was the second in the Sea of Japan, which South Korea calls the East Sea, in three days, following the firing of what Pyongyang called a “cutting edge” precision-guided missile Thursday.

Japan’s Defense Ministry confirmed that multiple ballistic missiles were fired into the Sea of Japan on Sunday morning, but no further details were immediately available.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters that the launches would raise concerns among neighboring countries, and do nothing to further the abduction talks.

“If (the North) keeps firings missiles, it would pose a grave problem for neighboring countries,” he said.

“Various negotiations with North Korea have been arranged right now (over the abduction issue). The firing won’t benefit them,” Onodera said, adding that Japan had already filed a protest with North Korea through its embassy in Beijing.

United Nations resolutions ban the North from launching ballistic missiles.

Whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet will continue diplomatic talks on the abduction issue is expected to be the focus of public attention in Japan.

When Pyongyang test-fired ballistic missiles in December 2012, the Cabinet of then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suspended diplomatic talks that were being held with Pyongyang in protest.

Later Sunday, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that he was not thinking of changing the schedule of the abduction talks, which are scheduled to be held Tuesday in Beijing, according to Kyodo News.

At a meeting in Fukuoka of family members of Japanese abducted by the North, Keiji Furuya, minister in charge of the abduction issue, said the launches were “within expectations,” adding that the government is committed to resolving the issue.

Tokyo says at least 17 Japanese were abducted by North Korean spies in the 1970s and ’80s. In 2002, the North allowed five to return to Japan and claimed the rest had died or never even entered North Korea.

Abe has apparently staked his hopes on the next round of talks, after the North promised to set up an investigation committee to look into the abductions and for possible survivors.

In return, Japan has promised to lift some of its economic sanctions against the North. However, it has reserved the right to halt the lifting of sanctions if it finds the committee “untrustworthy.”

Information from Kyodo and Jiji added