Arrangements are being made with North Korea to hold another round of working-level talks on the abduction issue later this month, government sources said.
That is when Pyongyang is expected to set up a special panel to reinvestigate its abductions of Japanese, as agreed to with Tokyo late last month.
Tokyo plans to ask North Korea to give priority to finding 77 Japanese who were possibly abducted and 12 official abductees who have not returned, the sources said Saturday.
The government will urge the North to submit its first report this summer, the sources said. They added that Japan will act to confirm the panel’s authority and membership, including who will be in charge.
Japan intends to dispatch a team of government officials to North Korea, including those from the Foreign Ministry and National Police Agency, to verify any claims made by the North once Pyongyang submits the report.
If the report convinces Tokyo progress can be made, it will consider having Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visit Pyongyang, the sources said.
The next round of working-level talks, which might be held in China, will likely reunite Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for talks on normalizing relations with Japan, the sources said.
Ihara, Song and other officials from the two countries negotiated for three days in Stockholm last month, culminating in a joint announcement on May 29 stating the North had agreed to reopen the abductions, which took place decades earlier but remain a hurdle to normalizing ties.
By giving priority to investigating the whereabouts of the roughly 90 people, Tokyo intends to see how seriously North Korea is tackling the issue, and hopes that approach will lead to an early return of any abduction victims.
“The investigation should be conducted in the order of how suspicious the cases are as abductions,” one of the government sources said, adding that Tokyo has a mountain of things to confirm during the next round of talks.
According to a nongovernmental group searching for the missing Japanese, North Korea may have abducted around 470 people. The government considers 77 of the cases similar to the 12 official victims who have not come back.
Five others on Tokyo’s official list were returned to Japan in 2002. North Korea said eight of the remaining 12 died and the other four did not enter the country.
Japan had spent years calling for a reinvestigation, but Pyongyang repeatedly insisted the issue was settled. Then, on May 29, the North said it was ready to “conduct a comprehensive and full-scale survey for the final settlement of all issues related to Japanese,” and agreed to set up a “special investigation committee” and “inform the Japanese side of the survey and confirmation when necessary.”
Through the official Korean Central News Agency, it added, “When survivors are found . . . (North Korea will) discuss the issue of course of action and take necessary measures in the direction of sending them back to Japan.”
For its part, Tokyo said it intends to ease its sanctions on North Korea, such as those restricting travel and remittances between the two countries, when the country starts the reinvestigation.