Japan is planning to send government officials to North Korea to learn details about its investigations into the fates of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang, government sources said Tuesday.
“Even if we dispatch (officials to North Korea), there would probably be no risk,” one source said hours after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made public North Korea’s proposal that Japanese officials visit Pyongyang for such a purpose.
The proposal was made in a meeting Monday between Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for negotiations to normalize relations with Japan, in Shenyang, northeastern China.
Speaking to reporters in Shenyang, Song said Tuesday that North Korea can host a Japanese delegation “at any time.”
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan will consider the North’s proposal with a view to advancing the investigations, which North Korea started in July and said would take a year to complete.
“We would like to decide on a specific policy in a swift fashion,” Kishida said.
In Monday’s talks, Song proposed that Japanese officials “come to Pyongyang, meet members of the Special Investigation Committee and hear what they have to say about details of the current state of the investigations.”
Kishida quoted Song as telling Ihara that North Korea “is not ready at this point to report specific investigations results for every single Japanese national” in the country, suggesting that the probes are at an initial stage.
Song, however, was quoted as saying that if Japanese officials visit Pyongyang and hold talks directly with members of the committee, Tokyo can better understand the current state of the investigations.
Song said that since its launch in July, the committee, which has a mandate from the National Defense Commission led by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has steadily been carrying out probes in a “scientific and objective way.”
The Ihara-Song meeting came after North Korea informed Japan through diplomatic channels in Beijing on Sept. 18 that the investigations were still in their initial stage and it would be unable to provide details beyond this phase.
North Korea was supposed to present an initial report sometime between late summer and early fall.
During Monday’s talks, Ihara made an inquiry about the current state of the North Korean investigations and “strongly demanded” that Pyongyang carry out probes speedily and report results swiftly.
Ihara said after the talks that it was still not known when Pyongyang would present its initial findings.
On July 4, Japan lifted some of its sanctions on North Korea in return for the launch of a new round of investigations into 12 Japanese nationals who are officially recognized by Tokyo as abduction victims and not yet returned to Japan, as well as many other missing Japanese suspected of being abducted.
North Korea has previously conducted investigations into the abductions of Japanese nationals, but Japan dismissed their results, saying that the outcomes were unconvincing.
In 2002, then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted that North Korean agents abducted 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s mainly to train spies in Japanese language and culture. Pyongyang allowed five of them to return to Japan in 2002 but claimed that the others had died.