Tokyo and Pyongyang are working to convene a formal meeting possibly at the end of this month over stalled talks on North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese nationals, sources close to bilateral relations said Saturday.
If realized, the talks would be the first between the two countries since October 2014, when senior Japanese and North Korean officials met in Pyongyang. Those discussions resulted from the North’s proposal that Japan send a mission to learn details of Pyongyang’s investigations into the fates of Japanese nationals abducted decades ago.
Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, is expected to attend the upcoming talks, while North Korea is likely to be represented by members of a special committee investigating the abductees issue, according to the sources. Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for negotiations to normalize relations with Japan, could also attend the talks.
However, details of the planned talks, including whether the specific whereabouts of abducted Japanese will be reported, remain unclear.
The move comes as Japan is considering whether to extend economic sanctions against North Korea beyond their scheduled expiration in mid-April. The sanctions include a total ban on exports and imports.
Japan lifted some of its sanctions last July, including restrictions on travel between the two countries, as Pyongyang launched the special committee to conduct an all-inclusive and comprehensive probe into Japanese residing in the North, including those abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.
But tangible progress has yet to be made as the agreed summer deadline for the investigation looms.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as abduction victims but suspects North Korea’s involvement in hundreds of other disappearances. Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002. Pyongyang has maintained that of the remaining 12, eight have died, while four others never entered the country.
The issue remains a major impediment to normalizing ties between the two countries.
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