Japan unwilling to let up on abduction issue



Seeing no tangible progress in the new abduction probe North Korea launched half a year ago, Tokyo will continue pushing Pyongyang to report its findings as soon as possible, according to government officials.

“At present, no concrete notification is taking place. We by all means intend to continue requesting the North Korean side to carry out the investigation rapidly and report the findings promptly and honestly,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Dec. 26 in his last news conference for 2014.

On July 4, North Korea launched a “reinvestigation” into 12 Japanese officially recognized by Tokyo as abductees and still missing, in return for the lifting of some of Japan’s unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang — a deal the two governments struck in May during talks in Stockholm.

Japan had expected North Korea’s “special investigation committee” led by So Tae Ha, vice minister of state security, to make its first report “sometime from late summer to early autumn,” but no such report was forthcoming.

In late October, Japan sent a mission to Pyongyang and told So, who is also counselor for security at the National Defense Commission, a top state organ headed by leader Kim Jong Un, that Tokyo regards the reinvestigation as “the most important” part of what North Korea billed as a comprehensive investigation into all Japanese residing in the country.

The Japanese mission demanded that North Korea report its findings “as soon as possible.” But Pyongyang apparently did not present information on the abductees by end of the year, as called for by Japanese officials, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

With the Dec. 14 snap election won by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has vowed to settle the abduction issue while in office, the government is considering resuming behind-the-scenes negotiations with North Korea in January and holding official talks by spring, at which time it is hoped Japan will receive a report on the reinvestigation, according to a government source.

Based on such a scenario, Japan would examine the report by summer, about a year after the launch of the reinvestigation, the source said.

There is general consensus between the two sides that the North’s investigation committee will aim to complete the reinvestigation around summer.

North Korea conducted investigations in 2002 and 2004 into its abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, but Japan rejected the results as unconvincing.

Citing international criticism of North Korea over its human rights record and the chilling of its ties with the United States over a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. attributed to Pyongyang, a senior Foreign Ministry official said the North is in a “very severe situation” and “may not have enough energy to push forward diplomacy toward Japan.”

As if to mirror the official’s view, Kim made no reference to Japan-North Korea relations in his New Year’s address on Thursday. Kim called for improved inter-Korean relations, even alluding to a summit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, amid heightened tensions with the United States and soured ties with China.

Despite such circumstances, Japanese officials said Tokyo will promote talks with North Korea while retaining the option of re-imposing a part of the sanctions it lifted six months ago.

The abduction issue has prevented Tokyo and Pyongyang from normalizing diplomatic relations.