Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda on Monday insisted that North Korea in 1997 proposed that Japan provide 500,000 tons of rice to the famine-stricken country.

Fukuda’s remarks came in response to a Sunday press report that a delegation secretly promised the aid in a bid to resolve the row over Japanese whom Tokyo believes were abducted by North Korean agents.

The delegation was led by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who was then chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council.

“It was not Japan that raised the issue of 500,000 tons of rice as food aid,” Fukuda told a regular news conference. “During the process of various informal discussions . . . North Korea presented (the number) as one example,” he said, adding other numbers were also mentioned.

“I can say for sure that (Japan) did not promise it,” he said, noting there is no official document signed on the matter.

The government announced earlier this month it will send 500,000 tons of rice to North Korea, partly as a measure to add impetus to the bilateral talks on normalizing ties.

The 1997 delegation — made up of the LDP, the Social Democratic Party and the defunct New Party Sakigake — made a controversial proposal to Pyongyang that it could return the Japanese by pretending they had been “found” in a third country.

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