North asks to resume meetings in February


North Korea has asked Japan if bilateral talks can resume around February even though its provocative rocket launch in December was the cause of their postponement, sources said Sunday.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a nationalist who talks tough on North Korea, is mystified by the proposal, the sources said.

“We’re not yet able to figure out what Pyongyang means, and it’s still likely the North may repeat provocative acts, such as an additional missile test and a nuclear test,” said a senior Tokyo official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

North Korea announced Dec. 1 that it would launch a rocket carrying an “Earth observation satellite,” prompting Japan to postpone talks that were to be held Dec. 5 to 6 in Beijing.

After hinting at a delay, Pyongyang launched the satellite on Dec. 12. But like its failed attempt last spring, the launch was viewed by many countries as an attempt to test ballistic missile technology — a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Pyongyang unofficially delivered the proposal on the talks after Dec. 16, when Abe was assured of becoming prime minister after the general election, the sources said.

North Korea also said Japan’s proposal to set up a joint panel to probe the fates of Japanese it abducted, made under the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, should be scrapped, the sources said.

The proposal reflects an apparent attempt by Kim Jong Un’s regime to make a fresh start after the recent power shift in Japan, and at a time when Japan, the United States and South Korea are stepping up pressure on the North because of the rocket launch, they said.

After resuming talks in August for the first time in four years, Japan and North Korea agreed at director general-level talks in Mongolia in November to continue discussing the abduction issue.

Then the focus shifted to whether both sides would be able to reach a consensus on establishing the joint abduction panel, only to be scrapped by the rocket launch.