Japan may re-open talks with North Korea over the issue of Japanese citizens abducted decades ago, an official said, days after an aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a surprise visit to Pyongyang.
“We are sounding out a way to make that possible,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters today in Tokyo, declining to comment further. Japan broke off talks with Kim Jong Un’s regime in December after North Korea said it would fire a long-range rocket in defiance of international sanctions.
Resuming negotiations risks irritating the U.S. and South Korea, which advocate a united stance against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Abe didn’t tell the governments in Seoul and Washington before sending envoy Isao Iijima to Pyongyang last week, a move South Korea called “not helpful.”
North Korea in 2002 admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, and allowed five of them to return home, saying the others were dead. Japan says at least 17 people were kidnapped and that there must be a full accounting for all those who have not been returned.
Abe has declined to comment on Iijima’s trip. Asked May 15 about a possible summit with Kim, Abe told lawmakers he would consider doing so only if a meeting would help resolve the abductee problem, as well as the nuclear and missile tensions.
North Korea fired six short-range missiles between May 18-20 as part of what it called regular military drills. Regional tensions rose after Kim’s government detonated an atomic bomb in February then threatened preemptive nuclear strikes against its enemies, rhetoric that has moderated since joint U.S.-South Korean military drills ended last month.
Kim today dispatched an envoy to China today amid signs of strains between North Korea and its biggest benefactor.
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