TOKYO, Japan – Japan's top government spokesman said on Wednesday it was close to holding another round of talks with North Korea, amid reports that they will meet in China next week.
“The Japanese and North Korean governments are in the final stages of discussions to set the time and the place for the next talks,” said Yoshihide Suga, the spokesman. The comment came amid local news accounts that the two nations are scheduling a two-day meeting from Tuesday in China, where Pyongyang is expected to explain its progress in launching a fresh investigation of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.
The meeting would come nearly a month after Tokyo announced it would ease sanctions against North Korea if the secretive state reinvestigated the abduction cases, an issue that conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has worked to solve for years. In the expected talks next week, the North would give details of a special committee formed to carry out the promised probe, including the team's composition and leadership hierarchy, Kyodo News said.
Japan has said the investigation has to be substantive and credible before it will lift its unilateral sanctions. Vice foreign minister Akitaka Saiki, the ministry's top bureaucrat, and direct negotiator Junichi Ihara, the head of Asian and Oceanian affairs, visited Abe Wednesday. Ihara is Japan's chief negotiator on the issue.
The deal in May between Japan and the North was seen as a major breakthrough in a very strained relationship and the most positive engagement between Pyongyang and the outside world in many months.