An aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an unannounced visit to North Korea that could ease regional tensions after months of missile and nuclear threats from the totalitarian state.
Isao Iijima arrived yesterday in Pyongyang, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a statement, and was met by Foreign Ministry official Kim Chol Ho. Iijima also served as a secretary to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who visited Pyongyang in 2002 and 2004 in a bid to resolve the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago.
Abe today in parliament declined to comment on Iijima’s visit. When asked whether he had any plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he told lawmakers he would consider doing so only if a meeting would help resolve the abductee problem, as well as the nuclear and missile issues.
“Meeting is not the point,” he said. “There must be results.”
Japan broke off talks with North Korea on the abduction issue in December after Kim’s regime announced plans to fire a long-range rocket in defiance of international sanctions. North Korea then detonated an atomic bomb and warned of preemptive nuclear strikes against the U.S. and South Korea, threats that have moderated since the beginning of May.
The North admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, a key issue in the normalization of ties between the two countries, 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.
North Korea has been ready to conduct a fourth nuclear weapons test since its last atomic detonation in February, the South Korean Defense Ministry said last month. Two ballistic missiles have been withdrawn from a launch site in the east of the country, CNN reported May 6. U.S. and South Korean forces declined to confirm nor deny the possible missile withdrawal.
Abe, who visited Pyongyang with Koizumi a decade ago, has been closely associated with the campaign for the return of the abductees. In a February policy speech to parliament, he said his mission would not be complete until all families of abductees were reunited with their missing relatives.
Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy on North Korean issues, yesterday in Seoul said he was unaware of Iijima’s trip. Davies is in Beijing today before flying to Tokyo.
“That will obviously be something that I discuss with the Japanese when I have a chance to talk to my counterparts there in a couple of days,” Davies told reporters yesterday. He said the U.S. wants North Korea to “move back in a diplomatic direction by taking actions to show their seriousness of purpose on the denuclearization issue.”