Japan has told North Korea that resumption of the suspended talks on normalizing diplomatic ties will depend on progress in the search for missing Japanese that Tokyo believes were kidnapped by Pyongyang, government sources said Sunday.

The position was conveyed to the North Korean side by Foreign Ministry officials who took part in a meeting between Japanese and North Korean Red Cross officials held in Beijing in late April, the sources said.

Shigekazu Sato, deputy chief of the ministry’s Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau, took part in the Red Cross meeting held to discuss “humanitarian” matters.

The sources did not elaborate on what specifically the Japanese officials demanded when they called for “concrete results” of North Korea’s promised search for missing Japanese.

But apparently on Tokyo’s agenda is information on the whereabouts or safety of 11 Japanese whom the Japanese police believe were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

North Korea has consistently denied any role in the disappearance of the Japanese but has said it will cooperate in the search for the “missing” people.

The latest position marks a shift from the previous Japanese government stance that it is ready to reopen normalization talks once North Korea promises to resume its probe into the missing.

Japan has asked the United States to take up the issue of the kidnapped Japanese when its officials meet with their North Korean counterparts, possibly later this month. The sources said the government is closely watching how the Pyongyang officials will respond to the issue.

Japan started talks to normalize diplomatic ties with North Korea in 1991, but the talks were suspended for much of the period since then, and no negotiations have been held since 2000.

Tokyo brought up the issue of the missing Japanese from the early stages of the talks, but no visible progress has been made on the issue as Pyongyang continues to deny its involvement.

Meanwhile, public pressure is mounting at home for the Japanese government to seek a quick solution to the problem, and the Foreign Ministry is now urging Pyongyang not just to promise a search but to provide clues to how the matter can be resolved, the sources said.

The government believes that North Korean is more willing than ever to improve relations with Japan, in order to ease its worsening food shortage by obtaining aid from Tokyo and to use ties with Japan as leverage in its relations with the U.S.

However, a senior Foreign Ministry official says it is still unclear how seriously North Korea considers Japan’s demands on the missing Japanese.

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