Foreign Ministry officials from Japan and North Korea recently held a secret meeting, most likely in China, to discuss the abduction issue, a source close to bilateral ties said Saturday.
The meeting came as Tokyo and Pyongyang are making arrangements for the first report on a newly launched investigation into the whereabouts of Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
While disagreements remain between the two sides over the quid pro quo expected by Pyongyang in return for its upcoming report, there is a growing possibility that the report may come in the third week of September or later, rather than the second week, as Japanese officials had expected.
The officials met secretly in search of common ground but apparently failed to fix the timing for the report’s release, the source said.
The investigation is being conducted by a special committee set up by North Korea.
The source said Saturday that the secret contact was held sometime between the second half of the previous week and the first half of the past week between Keiichi Ono, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asia Division, and Ryu Song Il, chief of the Japanese affairs section at the North Korean Foreign Ministry.
Junichi Ihara, head of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Foreign Ministry, may have participated in the meeting, as well, the source said.
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 unilaterally imposed sanctions on North Korea after Pyongyang agreed to form a special committee to investigate the whereabouts of the Japanese.
The special committee was established July 4. In response, Japan lifted some of its unilaterally imposed sanctions against North Korea.
Attention is focused on whether the report mentions the 12 Japanese on Tokyo’s official list of 17 abduction victims who remain missing, as well as those considered highly likely to have been abducted by North Korea.
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