JAKARTA – Japan and North Korea agreed Thursday to move forward with a family reunion in Indonesia of repatriated Japanese abductee Hitomi Soga and her American husband and their two daughters, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said.
The accord was reached during Kawaguchi’s talks here with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun, who told her that Soga’s husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, has agreed to travel to Indonesia.
If the meeting takes place, it will be the first time Soga has seen her husband and daughters, Mika and Belinda, since October 2002, when she returned to Japan but her family had to remain behind in Pyongyang.
Kawaguchi expressed hope during the talks that the family reunion take place by July 23, Belinda’s birthday, according to a Japanese official. Paek replied that the reunion should take place as soon as possible, the official said.
“The location and date will be coordinated from now, but I told them Ms. Hitomi Soga has a strong desire to meet her family by the July 23 birthday of her second daughter, Belinda, and North Korea said the earlier the better,” Kawaguchi told reporters.
Jenkins, who is listed as a U.S. Army deserter, had earlier refused to come to Japan to be reunited with Soga, saying he was afraid he might be extradited to the United States to be court-martialed.
Japan has since been trying to arrange a family reunion in a third country.
An Indonesian Foreign Ministry official said the country has proposed three candidate sites for the reunion.
The three locations are the resort island of Bali, Yogyakarta and Bogor, the official said.
“I’m very happy,” Soga said in a statement in her hometown in Sado, Niigata Prefecture. “I am thankful that (the reunion) will take place because of the encouragement from people around the country.”
A senior North Korean official told reporters in Jakarta: “We welcome the reunion and we hope to realize it soon. There is no real problem as far as procedure is concerned.”
During the talks, Paek also told Kawaguchi that North Korea has launched a reinvestigation into 10 missing Japanese who, Tokyo charges, were abducted by the reclusive state.
North Korea told Japan in 2002 that eight of the 10 had died after being abducted to the country, but denied that the other two, including Soga’s mother, had ever entered the country.
When Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang in May, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il promised to look into what had happened to the 10.
“The relevant organization is proceeding with new investigations. We hope to inform you through working-level contacts as soon as the results come out.” Paek was quoted as saying by a Japanese official.
Kawaguchi and Paek also agreed to follow up through working-level talks on the Koizumi-Kim summit, in which the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to working toward normalizing diplomatic ties after resolving the abduction, nuclear and other issues.
On Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, the two foreign ministers agreed to “strive to fill the gaps between parties concerned on the basis of certain progress made in the recent six-party talks,” the official said.
But in his talks with Kawaguchi, Paek raised the issue of three laws the Diet enacted recently, according to a statement the North Korean delegation issued after the bilateral meeting. The Japanese official did not brief reporters about this.
The war-contingency legislation and two laws enacted this year allowing Tokyo to impose sanctions against Pyongyang “are detrimental to the improved relations between the DPRK and Japan . . . as they aim at imposing sanctions against the DPRK,” Paek was quoted in the statement as telling Kawaguchi.
Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Koizumi said the government was working to reunite the Jenkins family before the July 11 House of Councilors election.
He said there was no reason why the reunion had to wait until July 23.
In Aichi Prefecture on Thursday night, Shinzo Abe, secretary general of Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party, said he believes that the day’s developments effectively open the door to the resumption of normalization talks between the two countries.
Abe had been one of the hardline politicians demanding progress be made on the abduction issue before Tokyo restarts dialogue on forging diplomatic ties with North Korea.
Kawaguchi briefed U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during a separate meeting, informing him of what she had told Paek about the abduction and nuclear issues, another Japanese official said.
Kawaguchi did not touch on the possibility of Tokyo having to extradite Jenkins if he comes to Japan and Washington asks for his custody, although the issue is a major hurdle blocking Soga’s wish to live with her family in Japan, the official said.
Kawaguchi met with Paek following talks with her Indonesian counterpart, Hassan Wirajuda, during which Kawaguchi officially asked Indonesia to host the Soga family reunion.
Hassan replied that Jakarta will fully cooperate to help the reunion take place.
“I asked for cooperation from the Indonesian government because Ms. Soga wishes to be reunited (with her family) in Indonesia,” Kawaguchi told reporters after her talks with Hassan.
The Indonesian foreign minister separately told reporters, “Wherever it takes place, we will be always ready to facilitate the reunion.
“The North Korean government supports the idea of holding the reunion in Indonesia,” said Hassan, who met Paek on Tuesday.
Soga, 45, was abducted by North Korea in 1978 and returned to Japan in 2002 with four other Japanese abductees.
When Koizumi visited Pyongyang in May, Jenkins, 64, refused Koizumi’s invitation to come to Japan, fearing the Japanese government might hand him over to the United States.
Indonesia has no extradition treaty with the U.S.
Kawaguchi and Paek last met in July 2002, before Koizumi’s first trip to Pyongyang two months later.
The Japanese leader visited the North Korean capital again on May 22 this year and brought to Japan the children of four other repatriated abductees.
Kawaguchi is in Jakarta for a series of Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings.
On the sidelines of those talks, she also met bilaterally Thursday with South Korean Foreign and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.