Social Democratic Party leader Takako Doi apologized Monday to the families of the people kidnapped to North Korea, admitting that the party, despite its long-standing ties with the Korean Workers’ Party, failed to sufficiently pursue the abduction issue.

“The party’s effort may have not been sufficient to live up to the expectation of the families of the abducted,” Doi told a news conference. “I would like to apologize to the families.”

The SDP and its predecessor, the Social Democratic Party of Japan, have had a history of friendly relations with the Korean Workers’ Party, the governing party of North Korea.

Since 1963, party delegates have visited Pyongyang more than a dozen times. Doi herself headed a delegation in October 1990.

Doi emphasized that the party brought up the kidnapping issue with its contacts in the Workers’ Party. But the North Koreans repeatedly denied any acts of abduction and told her lies all along, she said.

She said the party would review its policy toward North Korea in light of the revelations.

The party has been widely criticized for maintaining a thesis that appeared in its July 1997 party bulletin, in which the author described the kidnapping issue as a “fiction devised by the South Korean intelligence.” The thesis was still on the party’s official home page even after North Korea admitted to the kidnappings during the summit with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sept. 17.

The party removed the thesis from the Web site last Friday.

Earlier Monday, SDP member Yoko Tajima, a member of the House of Councilors, said she would leave the party due to discontent with its “slow reaction” to the abduction issue.

The party has not yet accepted her resignation.

Tajima, 61, said she would remain in the Diet as an independent, but pundits say she should give up her seat because she was elected in 2001 on the SDP’s proportional representation ticket.

Doi urged Tajima to resign from the Diet if she decides to leave the party.

“The Diet seat is the SDP’s, not her personal one,” Doi told reporters. “If she quits the party, it should mean that she will quit the legislature as well.”

Tajima, a former women’s studies professor at Hosei University, was elected in the 2001 Upper House election with roughly 500,000 votes.

‘Steadfast talks’ key

Cho Se Hyung, the South Korean ambassador to Japan, said Monday steadfast negotiations between Tokyo and Pyongyang will lead to the resolution of ongoing problems between the two countries, including the abduction issue.

“From the South Korean government’s experience of promoting its sunshine policy (of engagement with North Korea) . . . I think perseverance is necessary to hold dialogue with North Korea,” Cho said during a speech at a Tokyo hotel.

“I think a solution toward resolving issues can be found through continuing steadfast dialogue. Through such a process, I think mutual understanding and trust can be gained.”

Normalization talks between Japan and North Korea are slated to resume later this month.

Referring to the revelation that North Korea abducted 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, Cho said he hopes for a “sincere resolution” from North Korea. Pyongyang told Tokyo eight of the 13 are dead and five are still alive.

North Korea admitted to the abductions during a landmark summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Pyongyang on Sept. 17.

Cho, a former journalist and lawmaker, had high marks for Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang, saying it was significant and epoch-making for creating momentum toward peace and stability in northeastern Asia.

Turning to internal economic changes and reforms seen in North Korea, Cho said he believes North Korea has moved too far forward to back out, as it faces economic difficulties.

“I think North Korea is not conducting changes as a joke but is being serious,” he said.

Cho said that although he believes North Korea is moving in a direction of change as a whole, there is still a need for close monitoring.