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Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa on Monday contradicted Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori by saying the prime minister did not make a secret proposal to Pyongyang to resolve alleged abductions of Japanese.

Nakagawa opened a regular briefing by referring to the proposal that Mori revealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair while the two met in Seoul on Friday.

Mori later told reporters the same night that in 1997 he secretly proposed to Pyongyang that it could return suspected Japanese abductees by pretending they had been missing in other places. Mori said he had suggested Beijing and Bangkok.

“It was Mr. Masaaki Nakayama, who was a member of the ruling tripartite coalition’s mission to North Korea three years ago, who made the suggestion as a personal idea,” Nakagawa claimed, saying he had confirmed the fact with Mori. “It is therefore not an idea of the prime minister himself or the government’s official line.

Mori, who became prime minister in April, led the 1997 mission as chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Executive Council. The Japanese delegation consisted of members from the ruling parties at the time — the LDP, the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake.

Nakayama, an LDP Lower House member, has made no comment on the matter.

“The government has not facilitated a specific approach” for negotiations with North Korea to resolve the abductions, Nakagawa said.

LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka later supported Nakagawa’s version, saying that Mori’s comments do not mean the Japanese government held secret negotiations with North Korea.

“The government has no such policy and held no behind-the-scenes negotiations,” Nonaka said at a meeting of government and ruling party officials Monday afternoon. “We had serious discussions concerning the issue at the official negotiating table with North Korea, and (Nakayama) made the proposal afterward during an unofficial gathering,” he said.

Nonaka criticized the Japanese government’s lax information management, saying, “The contents of the confidential talks with Prime Minister Blair have been leaked from our side and that is the problem.”

Ever since his boast to Blair, Mori has been attempting to backtrack.

Last week he told Japanese reporters accompanying him on his trip to the Asia-Europe Meeting summit: “It’s a story from the past. I was just explaining the details” to Blair.

The government’s claim that 10 Japanese who disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s were abducted by Pyongyang agents remains one of the thorniest issues between the two countries, which are to resume normalization talks on Monday.

Although North Korea has never acknowledged Tokyo’s abduction claims, it has said it is searching for “missing” Japanese in the country.

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