A top-ranking North Korean official who defected to South Korea in 1997 has expressed his willingness to testify in Japan about the situation in the reclusive communist state, opposition lawmaker Shu Watanabe told Kyodo News on Saturday.

Hwang Jang Yop, who was secretary of the Workers Party of Korea, voiced his desire to testify in a recent meeting with Watanabe. The Democratic Party of Japan politician said he plans to have Hwang testify in the Diet if the visit can be arranged.

Hwang was the highest-ranking official under both North Korean leaders Kim Il Song and Kim Jong Il, and is now living under protection in South Korea.

His testimony could affect Japan’s policy toward North Korea as he is believed to know a great deal about Pyongyang’s military preparations, including its policy on Japan and its nuclear weapons program.

Watanabe said he met Hwang on June 14 at his office in Seoul, but that it was for a short period. Hwang only said that he would talk in Japan when Watanabe asked about the controversial Mangyongbong-92 ferry and Pyongyang’s policies toward Japan, Watanabe said.

Hwang was also quoted by Watanabe as saying the South Korean government would allow him to visit Japan if a group of Japanese lawmakers officially extended him an invitation via the South Korean Embassy.

That appeared to suggest Hwang could be invited to appear in the Diet as an unsworn witness.

Watanabe said he has already informally asked the ruling coalition to agree to summon Hwang to the House of Representatives Security Committee, where he serves as an executive member.

But it remains unclear whether Hwang will come to Japan as a planned visit to the United States at the invitation of nongovernmental organizations has become complicated for a number of reasons, including security concerns. Japanese NGOs also have extended invitations to Hwang but made little headway.

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