Rumors grow over talks with N. Korea

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Speculation is rising that Japan and North Korea will soon resume normalization talks after Hiroshi Nakai, former state minister in charge of the abduction issue, and a key North Korean official met secretly last week in Changchun, China.

Although government officials firmly deny any involvement in the talks between Nakai and Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for normalization talks, details suggest this was not the case.

Nakai, a Democratic Party of Japan member who is now chairman of the Lower House Budget Committee, has denied that the meeting even took place.

“Mr. Nakai took a personal trip and it had nothing to do with government diplomacy,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said during a news conference Wednesday.

Edano said he received a report that a Foreign Ministry official who is currently serving in the Cabinet Office’s Headquarters for the Abduction Issue took three days of “vacation” to act as an interpreter for Nakai.

According to the headquarters, the official is fluent in Korean but also speaks Chinese.

“The official was on vacation . . . and from what I have been told so far, I don’t think there is a problem,” Edano said. “The government’s headquarters on the abduction issue has absolutely nothing to do with this.”

He also said that talks with Pyongyang would not take place unless progress is made toward North Korea’s denuclearization.

“Japan, the U.S. and South Korea have confirmed that North Korea must first make progress in dialogue with South Korea and live up to its promise by taking concrete action (toward denuclearization),” said Edano. “I don’t think the time has come yet.”

Bilateral talks with the hermit state have not been held since August 2008 and media reports suggest Nakai, under instructions from the government, was trying to organize a meeting for the two governments to discuss various issues, including North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals and its nuclear weapons program.