Japan has urged North Korea to continue its investigation into the fates of Japanese citizens abducted by agents from the reclusive country after Pyongyang conveyed to Tokyo that its probe into the issue found no new information on the missing, sources familiar with bilateral relations said Saturday.
If North Korea accepts Japan’s request, Tokyo will consider holding off on tightening sanctions for the time being, the sources said.
Japan rejected requests by Pyongyang during the secret working-level meetings, which started in July, to set up a body to share information with the North Korean team conducting the investigation. Tokyo plans to dispatch a team to Pyongyang to verify the results of the probe, they added.
In July of last year, Tokyo lifted some of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea, including restrictions on travel and remittances, in return for the launch of a new probe.
North Korea originally indicated it would complete the investigation within about a year. But in July of this year, it said it needed more time, according to the Japanese government.
Tokyo will not likely reinstate the sanctions, as such a measure could anger the North and stall negotiations, the sources said.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a Diet session in late August that it is inappropriate at this time to set a deadline for the investigation into the abductees.
During the unofficial meetings between Japanese and North Korean officials in the Chinese city of Dalian and elsewhere, which were held monthly between July and early September, Pyongyang said it had completed the investigation into the abductions.
But Tokyo has declined to accept Pyongyang’s final report given the lack of progress that was made in discovering the fates of the abductees, leaving negotiations deadlocked.
For Japan, finding out what happened to those believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s is an issue of the highest priority. Pyongyang pledged to conduct a comprehensive survey of all Japanese in the country, including the abductees. The North Korean team tasked with looking into the matter were given a special mandate from the National Defense Commission led by leader Kim Jong Un to conduct the investigation.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korea, but suspects its agents were involved in many more disappearances. Five abductees were repatriated in 2002.
Of the 12 still missing, until the start of the new investigation, North Korea had insisted that eight are dead and four others never entered its territory.