KUALA LUMPUR - Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday he urged his North Korean counterpart Ri Su Yong to ensure Pyongyang abides by a 2014 bilateral accord and promptly compile a report on the outcome of an investigation into the fates of Japanese citizens abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.
“It is extremely regrettable that there is no prospect (as to the findings) more than a year after the start of the investigation,” Kishida told reporters after a rare meeting with Ri on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Kuala Lumpur.
“We are seeking the implementation of the Japan-North Korea accord and demand the return of all abduction victims without further delay,” Kishida said.
Japan and North Korea agreed in Stockholm in May of last year that Pyongyang would launch the investigation into 12 Japanese it recognizes as abductees who are still missing, as well as a comprehensive probe into all Japanese nationals residing in North Korea.
In return for Japan’s lifting of some unilateral sanctions, North Korea launched the investigation on July 4 of last year.
But North Korea said last month it needs more time to complete the investigation. North Korea’s delay in reporting has frustrated the abduction victims’ families, many of whom are aging and want the issue settled as soon as possible.
The Kishida-Ri meeting, which lasted for about 30 minutes, took place after official bilateral negotiations resumed more than a year ago.
Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic relations, and the long-stalled abduction issue remains a sticking point between them.
Kishida and Ri last met on the fringes of a regional security meeting in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw in August last year.
In response to Japan’s demands, Kishida quoted Ri as saying that North Korea’s special investigation committee is “faithfully carrying out the probe in line with the Stockholm agreement.”
Pyongyang set up the committee which was given a special mandate from the National Defense Commission led by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Kishida said he met with Ri based on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent instructions to step up efforts to make progress on the abduction issue.
Kishida also conveyed Japan’s concern over North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development. His remarks come amid speculation North Korea might conduct a major missile test in October.
Japan is hoping to use the Kishida-Ri meeting to push for concrete steps in resolving the abduction issue given what is believed to be Ri’s closeness to Kim. Ri was ambassador to Switzerland when Kim studied there.
Kishida and Ri are in the Malaysian capital to attend a series of regional meetings involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its dialogue partners such as the ASEAN Regional Forum on Thursday.
The 27-member forum, Asia’s major venue to discuss security issues, is one of the few multilateral ministerial meetings participated in by North Korea.