Ms. Yaeko Taguchi was abducted by North Korea in 1978 at the age of 22. Earlier this week Mr. Koichiro Iizuka, her son, and Mr. Shigeo Iizuka, her elder brother, met Ms. Kim Hyon Hui, a former North Korean agent, in Busan, South Korea. Ms. Kim told the Iizukas that she believed that Ms. Taguchi was alive. Ms. Taguchi is one of 17 Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea. Her son was only a year old at that time.

The meeting, organized by the Japanese and South Korean governments, reflects the bilateral cooperation that is now taking place to resolve the issue of abductions by North Korea. That the meeting could take place is likely due to the fact that conservative South Korean President Lee Myun Bak is in power. His two predecessors avoided taking actions that the North Korean government might view as provocative.

South Korea sentenced Ms. Kim for planting a bomb that downed a South Korean airliner in 1987, killing all 115 people aboard, but she was later given a presidential pardon. It is believed that Ms. Kim lived with Ms. Taguchi and received Japanese lessons from her for about 20 months from July 1981.

North Korea says Ms. Taguchi married Mr. Tadaaki Hara, another abductee, in 1984 then died in a traffic accident in 1986. But Ms. Kim said she had heard that Ms. Taguchi was forced to marry in 1986. As for Ms. Megumi Yokota, another abductee who North Korea claims is deceased, Ms. Kim said she had heard that Ms. Yokota was once committed to a psychiatric hospital but that her problems were not said to be severe. Ms. Kim added that she cannot believe that Ms. Yokota died.

Despite the North’s promise to reinvestigate the abductions, Japan and North Korea have not held substantive consultations since August 2008. As relying on other countries will not lead to a solution, Japan should do its utmost to reopen such channels.

Ms. Kim suggested that Japan seek ways to move North Korea’s “heart” while satisfying its need for respect. This can serve as a useful hint in working out an effective approach to North Korea. In addition, although Ms. Kim may be an asset for Japan, Japan should keep in mind the hard feelings that many South Koreans still bear toward her.

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