A secret mission to Pyongyang last fall by a close aide of then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda led to Japan-North Korea talks being held in Mongolia in mid-November amid disagreements over the abduction issue, a source said.
During the mission, which lasted from late October until early November, the aide met with senior North Korean officials and Pyongyang indicated its willingness to set up a joint investigation panel to look into the fate of Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the source.
The aide, who was connected to the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan, apparently exchanged opinions with the North Korean side on the return to Japan of Japanese nationals who could possibly be alive in North Korea, including abductees.
The aide’s secret visit to North Korea as Noda’s de facto envoy led to talks between senior diplomats of the two countries in Ulan Bator in mid-November.
There is a possibility that Isao Iijima, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s adviser who made an unannounced visit to Pyongyang last week, may have based his meetings with North Korean officials on the talks the Noda aide had.
The establishment of a joint investigation panel was proposed by Japan during bilateral consultations in February 2004 after Tokyo concluded it would be difficult for Pyongyang to get to the bottom of the abduction issue alone.
Abe, who was secretary general of the then-ruling Liberal Democratic Party at that time, took a negative stance toward the proposal on grounds that North Korea masterminded the abductions.
It remains to be seen, therefore, how Abe, who succeeded Noda as prime minister in late December and has vowed to finally settle the issue during his time in office, will approach the idea of a joint investigative panel this time around.
Acting on Noda’s wishes, the aide apparently proposed a way to settle the auctioning off of premises in Tokyo that housed the headquarters of Chongryon, the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, which serves as Pyongyang’s de facto diplomatic mission in Japan.
Among the North Korean officials the aide met with in Pyongyang were Song Il Ho, ambassador for talks to normalize relations with Japan, and the country’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, who is president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea’s legislature.
Although the two countries were expected to confirm through official governmental channels what had been agreed upon during the trip by Noda aide, bilateral talks were suspended after Japan notified North Korea in early December the talks would be postponed following Pyongyang’s launch of a long-range rocket.