North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong has told Japan that Pyongyang will deliver in early September the first report on its ongoing investigation into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by its agents in the past, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.
The timing was conveyed to Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida during an exchange with Ri on Sunday in Myanmar, where both ministers were attending a regional security summit, according to the sources.
Ri’s remarks indicate the report may be released by Sept. 10, since North Korea had previously said it would not be delivered until at least the second week in September.
This is the first time details of the exchange between Kishida and Ri have become public. In Myanmar, Kishida had only told reporters that Japan and North Korea conveyed their respective positions, without elaborating.
The central government is paying close attention to Ri’s remarks as he is said to be a close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to travel to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka during the first week of September, and Japanese government officials hope to set the report’s release date shortly after Abe returns from that trip.
Attention is focused on whether the report will mention the 12 Japanese on Tokyo’s official list of 17 abduction victims who remain missing, as well as others considered highly likely to have been abducted by North Korean agents.
Five abductees were repatriated in 2002, following a landmark visit to Pyongyang by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The long-standing abductees issue has contributed to the two countries failing to normalize relations.
North Korea’s investigation into the abductions was launched following an agreement reached between Japan and North Korea on May 29, in which Japan promised to lift some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang agreeing to form a special committee to investigate the whereabouts of Japanese suspected of being abducted.
The special committee was established on July 4.