• Kyodo


Although no deadline was set for North Korea’s promised probe into the fate of Japanese abducted by the hermit state, the review should be complete by this time next year, Japan’s top government spokesman said Friday.

“We haven’t confirmed the details, but we told them that it can’t take too much time, and they are aware of it,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

But North Korea’s chief negotiator muddied the waters the same day by saying Japan had agreed to halt the sale of North Korea’s de facto embassy in Tokyo, which Suga denied.

On Thursday, Japan and North Korea announced that Pyongyang had agreed to investigate what happened to Japanese who were kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago.

North Korea admitted in 2002 to having abducted 13 Japanese nationals but has repeatedly declared the issue settled after allowing five of them to return to Japan the same year. The others, it said, were dead.

In return for a full-scale investigation, Japan is preparing to ease its unilateral sanctions on North Korea, including those restricting travel to Japan and cross-border remittances.

Earlier Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that North Korea must honor its commitment.

“We have been able to open a long-closed door in negotiations, giving rise to the possibility of rescuing the abductees,” Abe said. “I urge North Korea to keep its promise.”

But in a development that shows progress could be uneven, North Korea’s envoy for the talks, Song Il Ho, said Friday that the agreement is tied to the fate of Pyongyang’s de facto embassy in Tokyo. This is not what Japan believes it agreed to.

Song represented North Korea at the three-day talks in Stockholm. He told reporters at Beijing’s international airport that the issues are “included” in the accord.

Suga, however, said Thursday that the deal does not include a freeze on the sale of land and a building that formerly housed the headquarters of the General Association of Korean Residents (Chongryon).

Earlier this year, a Japanese court ruled that the property should be sold to pay off the organization’s huge debts.

On his way from Stockholm to Beijing, Song struck an upbeat tone with reporters in Moscow.

“I have long been holding talks (with Japan), but I would like to underscore there was considerable progress during the latest meeting,” Song said.

On the abduction issue, which has prevented Japan and North Korea from normalizing diplomatic relations, Song said North Korea has continued making sincere efforts to solve it.

“We will do everything that we should do,” he said.

The two shared “a common understanding to some extent” about the abduction issue, Song said, adding they “should demonstrate their action toward common objectives.”

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