Switzerland hopes to serve as an intermediary and provide a neutral location for potential dialogue between Japan and North Korea on the issue of Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese nationals, Swiss President Didier Burkhalter said Thursday in Tokyo.
Switzerland is “eager to act as a go-between for talks with any countries in the Asia-Pacific region to enhance regional security,” Burkhalter told a press conference.
“If (Japan and North Korea) wish, we would like to contribute by providing a setting for dialogue,” he said.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. North Korea claims the abduction issue has already been resolved, but Japan has repeatedly requested talks on the matter.
During his visit from Monday, Burkhalter met Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and local business leaders.
“I came to Japan to confirm our diplomatic ties, and our collaboration in tourism, economics and international politics, which we have the potential to advance even further,” he said.
Reiterating his suggestion to Kishida on Thursday that a framework taking after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a security-oriented intergovernmental organization, could be useful in East Asia, Burkhalter told the press conference, “A similar framework could be made to build dialogue and foster security and stability in this region.”
Switzerland chairs the OSCE this year. Burkhalter’s visit comes as Japan and Switzerland mark 150 years of diplomatic relations since they signed their Treaty of Friendship and Commerce on Feb. 6, 1864, in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate.
The two countries began a series of events to mark the 150th anniversary with the opening of the four-day “Swissdays” cultural festival in Tokyo’s busy Roppongi district Thursday.
Burkhalter, meanwhile, hailed the Japan-Switzerland “open skies” agreement signed Wednesday, liberalizing aviation rules between the countries to encourage airline competition.
In 2009 the countries signed a free trade agreement, which remains the only such pact between Japan and a European country.
Burkhalter, who doubles as foreign minister, was elected president in December.
Kerry planning Asia visit
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is fine-tuning plans for an upcoming trip to Asia, which is set to focus partly on climate change, his spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Although no dates have yet been released, the top U.S. diplomat revealed over the weekend that he planned to return to China in the coming weeks.
It will be Kerry’s fourth trip to Asia as the U.S. administration seeks to “rebalance” toward the region, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had no dates to announce, saying only that “planning is ongoing.”
The trip will also come amid rising tensions over territorial disputes between Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo. Psaki said “maritime security will be, of course, a part of the discussion” during Kerry’s trip, along with the “threat of North Korea and steps that he feels, we all feel, are necessary to take.”