North Korea proposed in late October that visiting Japanese officials meet with their nationals who had stayed on in what is now North Korea after the end of World War II and Japanese women married to pro-Pyongyang Korean residents of Japan who moved to North Korea under a 1959-1984 resettlement project, sources familiar with bilateral relations said Wednesday.
During talks in Pyongyang, the Japanese officials rejected the offer, however, saying they came to North Korea to tell its officials that Tokyo places its highest priority on Pyongyang’s investigation into Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the sources.
The North Korean proposal came as Japanese and North Korean officials gathered in the North Korean capital on Oct. 28 and 29 for talks on what Pyongyang has billed as a comprehensive probe into all Japanese residing in the country.
By making the proposal, North Korea appeared poised to show it was making progress in the comprehensive investigation it launched on July 4, perhaps hoping to secure a further lifting of sanctions imposed by Tokyo, observers said.
The talks involved Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, and So Tae Ha, vice minister of state security of North Korea and counselor for security at the National Defense Commission, the top state organ headed by leader Kim Jong Un.
According to the sources, the North Korean side told the Japanese side on Oct. 28 that it “can arrange a meeting” between the Japanese delegation, which was led by Ihara, and some Japanese nationals who had stayed on after Japan ended its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in 1945, as well as some Japanese wives of former pro-Pyongyang residents of Japan.
The slightly more than 10 people from Japan have been confirmed to reside in Pyongyang and elsewhere in North Korea.
The Japanese side rejected the proposal, saying it “places the highest priority on the abduction issue,” according to the sources. Tokyo is particularly concerned about the whereabouts of 12 Japanese nationals officially recognized by Tokyo as abduction victims and still missing.
Japan was also concerned that if it responded to North Korea’s offer, the Japanese wives and other Japanese in the country may request that they be allowed to go to Japan temporarily or permanently, potentially giving Pyongyang an excuse for handling such requests before acting on its investigation into the abduction victims.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said he expects North Korea’s special investigation committee to present its report on the abductees by year’s end.
In the past, North Korea conducted investigations into abduction cases involving Japanese nationals, but Japan rejected their results as unconvincing.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as abduction victims but suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances. While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang has maintained that eight have died and four others never entered the country.
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