PYONGYANG — North Korea’s ambassador for negotiations to normalize relations with Japan told a visiting Japanese delegation that ties between the two countries have been going “from bad to worse rather than getting normal,” during their meeting in Pyongyang on Wednesday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently voiced eagerness to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without conditions, but Song Il Ho’s remarks suggested that Pyongyang has little intention to hold a summit with Tokyo in the near future.
The ambassador held talks with the delegation led by Shingo Kanemaru, the second son of Shin Kanemaru, a late veteran lawmaker who worked toward the establishment of diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang in the 1990s.
Song, meanwhile, said, “We will make constant efforts to develop friendly ties with everyone in countries around the world and Japan who respects our nation’s autonomy,” while emphasizing North Korea’s achievements of economic construction and defense buildup.
Kanemaru is visiting North Korea from Saturday with officials of Yamanashi Prefecture, from which he hails. On Tuesday, a celebration was held to mark what would have been the 105th birthday of Shin Kanemaru.
The delegation’s visit comes as Abe has said, “I myself need to face Chairman Kim without conditions” to resolve the issue of abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, although the prime minister had indicated a future summit with Kim would not be possible without any guarantee of progress.
Japan officially lists 17 people as abductees, five of whom were repatriated in 2002, and suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances. Pyongyang has argued that the abduction issue has been “already resolved.”
In 1990, Shin Kanemaru co-headed a bipartisan delegation that went to North Korea. His Liberal Democratic Party and the Japan Socialist Party signed a joint declaration with the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea calling for the need to normalize diplomatic relations.
The elder Kanemaru, who died in 1996 at age 81, held talks with then North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, who died two years earlier at the age of 82. Kim Il Sung is the country’s founder and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather.
Shingo Kanemaru served as his father’s secretary and was deeply involved in the negotiations at the time. Since then he has frequently visited North Korea. In October last year, he also made a trip to North Korea and met with Song.