Japan officials to visit North Korea over abductee report

Japan officials to visit North Korea over abductee report
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

JAPAN - The government is set to dispatch a delegation of officials to Pyongyang to directly hear from North Korea concerning that country's new investigation into Japanese abductees, as proposed by North Korea, a government source said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday evening that North Korea sounded Japan out, during the director general-level talks held in Shenyang, China on Monday, about sending working-level officials to Pyongyang over the issue.

Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, who attended the Shenyang talks, briefed Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on what was discussed at the bilateral talks.

According to Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador in charge of talks to normalize the country's ties with Japan, said during the Monday talks that the "Special Investigation Committee" established in July to reinvestigate the issue has been steadily tackling the investigation scientifically and objectively.

Regarding specifics, however, he reportedly suggested that Japan send a delegation of officials to Pyongyang, to hear directly from members of the special investigation committee.

According to a senior Foreign Ministry official, Pyongyang asked Japan to send officials in charge from the ministry and other entities concerned, rather than a visit by Abe.

A government source said late Tuesday, "There is no risk involved in dispatching a delegation to North Korea." He added, however, that the timing of the dispatch has not been decided.

North Korea was originally scheduled to issue an initial report on the reinvestigation within last month. On Sept. 18, however, Pyongyang told Tokyo that it would postpone the issuance, saying that the investigation was still in an early stage and there was no more information available beyond that level.

Results not guaranteed

Since both countries agreed on Pyongyang's conducting a reinvestigation in May, the government discussed the possibility of dispatching its officials to North Korea and of conducting the investigation jointly.

It was intended for the Japanese side to examine in advance the contents of the report to be issued by Pyongyang. Yet that idea was shelved because, as a government source put it, "Should Japanese officials join the probe, there would be a possibility of Pyongyang's interpreting that to mean Japan has endorsed the report."

The government has formulated a policy of sending its officials to Pyongyang as it has concluded that negotiations with officials of North Korea's foreign ministry who do not belong to the investigation committee will bring "little or no progress on the issue."

Japanese government officials also believe that North Korea would not allow officials of the State Security Ministry, whose vice minister heads the committee, to leave the country and be exposed to the media. Thus, the prevailing view has it that to hear directly from the committee members, there is no other way but for Japanese officials to go to Pyongyang.

As the dispatch will be made in response to Pyongyang's proposal, there is also a possibility of the meeting in Pyongyang ending up as one where the committee members simply make unilateral assertions to the Japanese officials rather than engaging in dialogue.

As there is also a risk that North Korea may utilize the meeting's outcome for a "propaganda effort," the government will also analyse what Pyongyang intends to achieve with the meeting.

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