An overture to Pyongyang

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent an aide, Mr. Isao Iijima — a former secretary to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi — to North Korea last week in an effort to make progress on unresolved bilateral issues, including the past abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents.

Japan has made it clear to North Korea that the abduction issue as well as the issue of the North’s nuclear weapons and missiles programs must be resolved comprehensively on the basis of the Sept. 17, 2002, Pyongyang Declaration jointly signed by Mr. Koizumi and the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the father of current North Korean leader Mr. Kim Jong Un.

Pyongyang should make sincere efforts to heed Japan’s call to resolve these issues. Tokyo, on its part, must prevent Pyongyang from driving a wedge between Japan and the United States and South Korea as the three countries attempt to deal with the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Iijima reportedly told the North that as long as it makes no efforts to resolve the abduction issue, Tokyo will not make any effort to improve ties with Pyongyang. He reportedly demanded that the North return all known abductees and other Japanese suspected of having been abducted by North Korean agents, reveal the entire truth about the abduction scheme, and hand over those North Koreans who carried out the abductions.

Under its new leadership, North Korea has taken a series of provocative steps, including conducting a third nuclear test in February and nullifying the 1953 Korean War armistice.

But the new leadership apparently cannot abrogate the Pyongyang Declaration because it was signed by supreme leader Kim Jong Il. In the declaration, Japan apologized for its past colonial rule over Korea and promised to provide economic assistance to North Korea if diplomatic relations are normalized. Kim apologized for the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents and in the declaration North Korea said it would take appropriate steps to prevent future abductions.

At that time, both sides also confirmed the necessity of resolving security problems including nuclear and missile issues by promoting dialogue among the countries concerned, and North Korea expressed its intention of imposing a moratorium on its missile launching in and after 2003.

The new leadership in Pyongyang has been thumbing its nose at the moratorium pledge. In December, North Korea launched a long-range rocket and between May 18-20, it launched six short-range rockets. Japan should remind Pyongyang’s new leadership of the pledge Kim Jong Il made regarding the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles development.

The U.S. expressed displeasure over Mr. Iijima’s visit to North Korea because Japan did not notify Washington about it in advance. South Korea characterized the visit as “not helpful.” Rather than try to go it alone, Japan should strive for cooperation with the U.S. and South Korea in dealing with the North. It should also make sure that Pyongyang does not try to use Tokyo’s latest overture to undermine cooperation among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea.