Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori secretly promised North Korea 500,000 tons of rice aid in 1997 when he visited Pyongyang as the head of a delegation composed of Japan’s three then-ruling parties, the head of a small opposition party told Kyodo News on Saturday.
New Socialist Party leader Osamu Yatabe said Mori, then chairman of the General Council of the Liberal Democratic Party, made the promise to several high-ranking North Korean officials.
Yatabe said he was informed of the promise by North Korean officials in July last year when he visited the country.
It is the first concrete disclosure regarding the alleged deal, although rumors of it circulated after Mori returned from the visit.
Earlier this month, Japan promised aid of 500,000 tons of rice to North Korea through the U.N. World Food Program to alleviate its food shortages.
The aid far exceeds the 195,000 tons that the WFP had asked the international community to provide in September to help feed North Koreans in the four-month period from September.
Some quarters had suspected the Japanese government of drastically increasing the amount of the latest aid to fulfill the promise Mori made three years ago. Yatabe’s disclosure backs up this theory, political sources said.
Yatabe said Mori’s promise was revealed to him by Kim Yong Sun, chairman of the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, and committee Vice Chairman Song Ho Gyong, both close to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
It has already been learned that during the same trip, Mori proposed to North Korean officials that the issue of missing Japanese allegedly abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s could be resolved by arranging for the Japanese to show up in a third country.
The report touched off a firestorm of criticism against the prime minister and the latest disclosure about the rice aid may intensify the furor.
The North Koreans also asked Yatabe to ensure that the Japanese government implement Mori’s promise of the rice aid, saying that Japanese delegations had never followed through with their previous promises.
The North Korean officials told Yatabe that the delegation, which consisted of members of the LDP, the Social Democratic Party and what was then New Party Sakigake, had promised to work on implementing the aid.
But the group refused to mention it in official documents, on the grounds that some people in Japan would reject such a deal.
The latest assistance of 500,000 tons follows 100,000 tons of rice that Japan sent North Korea between May and August.
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