North Korea talks fall flat on abduction issue


Officials from Japan and North Korea failed to reach an agreement on whether to reinvestigate the abduction of Japanese nationals, following three days of “serious discussions” in Stockholm.

However, the two sides plan to continue talks on that issue and others, a senior Japanese official suggested on Wednesday.

Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, told reporters he raised the issue of the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s, and that North Korea did not reject talks on the matter as it did during the previous session in late March in Beijing.

Asked whether the two countries reached an agreement on reinvestigating the abduction cases, Ihara said only that the two sides planned to further talks.

“We will continue consultations with North Korea (on the abduction issue), so I would like to refrain from referring to the substance of discussions like who said what,” Ihara said. “We had serious discussions this time, too. I should refrain from making further assessment from my side.”

Observers were keen to learn how North Korea would respond to Japan’s demand, made during the last round of talks in Beijing, for a reinvestigation and for abductees to be returned to Japan. Pyongyang has said the abduction issue has already been settled.

Ihara said Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for talks to normalize relations with Japan, expressed concern about the auction sale of a building housing the Tokyo headquarters of the pro-Pyongyang group Chongryon.

The headquarters has functioned as the de facto North Korean embassy in the absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Ihara reiterated Tokyo’s position that the government cannot intervene in a judicial process in Japan under the principle of separation of powers. Failure to solicit support from the Japanese government on the continued use of the Chongryon headquarters may have hardened North Korea’s position on the abduction issue.

The Tokyo High Court recently dismissed an appeal filed by Chongryon against the sale of the property to a Japanese real estate company, after the property was ordered sold to raise money to cover debts left by a failed credit union serving pro-Pyongyang Koreans residing in Japan. Chongryon has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

Among other issues, Ihara called for North Korea’s restraint from conducting provocative acts in relation to its nuclear and missile development programs that would escalate tensions in East Asia.

The two governments will discuss the timing and location of a next round of talks through their embassies in Beijing, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry official.

  • phu

    Why would North Korea make any definite refutations? It’s yet another carrot they’re cultivating and Japan is yet again falling for it, happily grabbing at it as though this had never happened before and the conclusion were not painfully obvious.

    Continuing dialogue like this is sick. As soon as North Korea sees that it can extract some kind of concession or rally its PR at home by reneging on whatever they’ve offered or started to agree to, that’s exactly what they will do, just like they always have.

    It’s painful to suggest abandoning such talks and halting the aid and other concessions that are keeping the North afloat, but unless that happens, Pyongyang will have no reason to actually DO anything other than make and break promises and continue the oppression of its people. That will likely result in some of these families not being reunited before some of them die of old age, but can that really be weighed against the suffering and subjugation of an entire nation?

    • Scott Reynolds

      You don’t seriously believe that any of the Japanese abductees are still alive, do you? Even if any are still alive, it seems pretty likely that they either don’t want to return to Japan or that the N Koreans feel they can’t allow them to return, so its the same thing. That is to say, there is no point to asking for more “investigations.” Its not like they might just be living quietly in obscurity somewhere.

      The N Koreans already apologized back when Koizumi visited. There really is nothing more to expect from them on this issue now. Continuing to harp on about it is just a political ploy by Abe and his pals.

      • phu

        You’re making quite a few unwarranted assumptions that I’m not willing to accept. Not only that, they are irrelevant to my point; alive or dead, the issue is being used — like everything else — as a ploy for propaganda and concessions by North Korea.

        If you’re OK with dismissing this as something that’s solved with an apology, that’s your call, but even as a very cynical person I find that point of view pretty grim.

      • Scott Reynolds

        Okay. You object to the fact that NK is using the abduction issue “as a ploy for propaganda and concessions.” But that is what NK does with all issues. They have always behaved this way.

        What I object to is the way this issue is politicized by Abe and his fellow “conservatives” as a way to whip up nationalist sentiment. Expecting any progress on the abduction issue at this stage is a pipe dream, and in any case the relevant discussions should be conducted quietly behind closed doors where both sides can discuss things that cannot be aired publicly but nevertheless have to be addressed if there is to be any solution.

        I don’t approve of NKs actions or behavior, but I am not surprised by them either. It is Japan that I would expect more from.