An aide to the Japanese prime minister returned home from a controversial trip to North Korea yesterday, reportedly saying he had demanded Pyongyang’s act swiftly on its kidnapping of Japanese nationals.
Isao Iijima, a senior adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said he told senior North Korean officials that Tokyo wanted Japanese civilians kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s to be immediately returned, according to Jiji Press, without citing sources.
Iijima also said — when reporting back to Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a Tokyo hotel — that he demanded Pyongyang come clean on the truth about the abduction, and for it to hand over those responsible for the kidnappings, Jiji said.
Iijima’s trip fueled speculation that the North may be trying to thaw icy relations with Japan at a time when ties with the US and South Korea have gone into deep freeze after nuclear and missile tests.
South Korea dubbed the trip “unhelpful” to international efforts to forge a united front against Pyongyang, while the US expressed its surprise.
The US, along with its two Asian allies, has increased pressure on Pyongyang to drop its nuclear ambitions and to join the international community.
The North’s state media this week showed footage of Iijima holding talks on Thursday with Kim Yong-nam, North’s Korea’s ceremonial head of state, according to NHK and other Japanese media.
Iijima was a senior aide to former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, and is known to have played a role in organizing his trips to Pyongyang in 2002 and 2004 for talks with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Abe accompanied Koizumi on the 2002 visit.
When Koizumi visited Pyongyang in 2002, North Korea admitted its agents kidnapped Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies in Japanese language and customs.
Some of those snatched were allowed to return to Japan along with children who were born in the North, but Pyongyang said the rest of them had died.
However, many in Japan believe the North is still holding some and Pyongyang’s perceived refusal to come clean has derailed efforts to normalize ties.
Abe told reporters yesterday that “the abduction issue is what has to be resolved under the Abe administration. My mission won’t be completed unless all the victims return to their families who would give them big hugs,” Jiji Press said.