• Kyodo


Japanese wrestler-turned-lawmaker Antonio Inoki plans to visit North Korea next week for talks with top officials, a source close to the matter has said, just days after the North fired a ballistic missile across northern Japan into the Pacific Ocean.

Inoki, whose real first name is Kanji, an independent member of the House of Councilors, has repeatedly visited North Korea and developed connections with its authorities despite the lack of diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang.

Inoki last visited North Korea in September last year, and North Korea carried out its fifth nuclear test while he was there.

North Korea often times its shows of force to coincide with anniversary days, prompting speculation that it could conduct another ballistic missile launch or a sixth nuclear test around Sept. 9 when the country observes National Foundation Day.

Inoki may be seeking a breakthrough with officials over North Korea’s tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of international sanctions, but he is likely to be criticized for making the trip amid the North’s refusal to halt those actions.

The Japanese government has called on all its citizens to refrain from travel to North Korea as part of its unilateral sanctions.

The source said Friday that Inoki plans to go to Beijing on Sept. 6 and travel to Pyongyang the following day in time to attend National Foundation Day celebrations on Sept. 9. He plans to return to Japan on Sept. 11.

He is seeking a meeting with Ri Su Yong, North Korea’s top foreign affairs official, and may also meet ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam, the source said.

Ri, thought to have a close bond with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, manages the Workers’ Party of Korea’s diplomatic affairs.

He is also chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly’s committee on foreign affairs, which was revived in April this year after a roughly 20-year hiatus.

In his meetings in Pyongyang, Inoki is expected to convey his personal opinion that the issues around North Korea’s nuclear and missile development should be resolved through dialogue rather than through increased pressure on the country.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes a tougher stance on the issue.

Tuesday’s ballistic missile launch prompted Abe to agree with U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders to compel the international community to step up pressure on Pyongyang.

Inoki may also ask North Korean officials to allow a multiparty group of Japanese lawmakers to visit the country, the source said.

During his stay, Inoki is also expected to take part in ceremonies relating to the foundation day and spend time with North Koreans involved with Olympic activities.

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