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North Korea, Japan met in secret

Aug 30,2018
North Korea and Japan met secretly in Vietnam last month without informing the United States, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

South Korea also appeared to have no advance knowledge of the meeting. A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul told reporters on Wednesday that the ministry was closely monitoring the situation.

The Post report did not reveal the meeting’s agenda but suggested it could have been related to Japanese abductees in the North. U.S. officials were reportedly irritated that Tokyo was not forthright about the meeting, given Washington’s “near-constant updates” to Tokyo on its dealings with North Korea, The Post reported.

Citing unidentified “people familiar with the matter,” the paper said the meeting was attended by Shigeru Kitamura, a top Japanese intelligence official who heads the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, and Kim Song-hye, a senior official from the North’s Propaganda and Agitation Department of the ruling Workers’ Party.

Kim was part of a high-level North Korean delegation that flew to New York in late May to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ahead of the first summit between the two countries’ leaders. That delegation was led by Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee.

Without specifying what Japan and North Korea discussed in Vietnam, The Post reported that officials in Tokyo have acknowledged that they cannot rely solely on the United States to lobby on Japan’s behalf for the return of Japanese abductees.

North Korean state media made no mention of the reported meeting in Vietnam. Japanese broadcaster NHK said Kitamura refused to receive answers from Japanese reporters after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday.

The issue of Japanese nationals kidnapped by the North in the 1970s and ‘80s has been a stumbling block for both countries in establishing diplomatic ties.

The North claims the matter has been settled and refuses to return them home, while Japan has made repeated requests for their repatriation. Ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Japanese Prime Minister Abe asked Trump to convince Kim to repatriate them. Trump said he raised the issue during his summit with Kim on June 12, but the discussion did not lead to any fruitful results.

The meeting in Vietnam could have led to North Korea’s recent release of a Japanese man, Tomoyuki Sugimoto. The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Sunday that the government had released the Japanese detainee, who recently entered the North as a tourist, on the “principle of humanitarianism.” The report did not spell out his alleged crime, saying only that he broke North Korean law.

Citing an unidentified government source in Japan, the Japanese news outlet Kyodo reported that Sugimoto was a videographer from the central Japanese prefecture of Shiga and allegedly shot footage of a North Korean military facility when he visited the western port city of Nampo with a tour group.

Kyodo reported that the 39-year-old arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday via Beijing. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the government was planning to question him. Some South Korean analysts believe Pyongyang might be out to improve ties with Tokyo in order to break a stalemate in denuclearization talks with Washington, given Japan’s longstanding alliance with the United States.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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