Does North Korea really intend to resolve the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals? It is important to deal with the issue calmly while ascertaining Pyongyang’s stance.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered an address at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. He reiterated his willingness to hold summit talks with the North Korean leader, saying, “I am also ready to break the shell of mutual distrust with North Korea, get off to a new start and meet face-to-face with [Workers’ Party of Korea] Chairman Kim Jong Un.”
Negotiations between top leaders would be an effective measure to make a breakthrough in the abduction issue, which has become stalled. It is understandable that Japan is aiming to find a way to resolve the issue by seizing the opportunity presented by North Korea’s shift to a stance in favor of dialogue.
At inter-Korean summit talks in the middle of this month, the North Korean leader is said to have expressed his readiness to have dialogue with Japan at an appropriate time and explore ways to improve bilateral relations. South Korean President Moon Jae In conveyed this to Abe.
On the other hand, North Korea has not changed its position, saying via its official media and other means that “the abduction issue has already been resolved.”
Foreign Minister Taro Kono held a meeting with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho at the U.N. headquarters. This was the first contact between the Japanese and North Korean foreign ministers since August. In July, Cabinet Intelligence Director Shigeru Kitamura had talks with an official of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Through various opportunities, Japan should confirm whether the North Korean leader has recognized the importance of resolving the abduction issue.
It is Pyongyang’s common diplomatic practice to make concessions bit by bit and try to gain as many rewards as possible.
Stick to principles
If Japan hastens to hold a bilateral summit without preparing the right environment, that could allow North Korea to gain the upper hand in the talks. It was reasonable of Abe to say, “It must be a meeting that contributes to the resolution of the abduction issue.”
North Korea unilaterally canceled its reinvestigation into the Japanese abductees, which was based on an agreement that Tokyo and Pyongyang reached in Stockholm in 2014. Such an unfaithful response must not be repeated.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles pose a threat to Japan. By resolving these issues and the abduction issue together, Japan can open the door to normalizing its diplomatic relations with North Korea. By doing so, its economic assistance to North Korea will also become possible. That is Japan’s stance.
It is crucial for Japan to win concessions from North Korea without changing this principle. Tokyo must go into a summit meeting only after holding a series of working-level negotiations between the two countries.
Preparations have been well under way for a second summit between the U.S. and North Korean leaders toward Pyongyang’s denuclearization. It is essential for Japan to proceed with talks with North Korea while closely watching progress in negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
It will become even more important for Japan to exchange information closely and coordinate policies with the United States and South Korea.
The families of the abductees, who are aging, are waiting eagerly for the return of the abductees without further delay. With regard to how to bring the long-standing issue to a resolution, Abe’s diplomatic ability will be put to the test.