South critical over Japan envoy’s visit to North

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South critical over Japan envoy’s visit to North

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed yesterday criticism of a Japanese prime minister adviser’s unannounced visit to Pyongyang Tuesday, calling the secret trip not “helpful” in the current North Korea situation for leaving the international community in the dark.

Isao Iijima, a political aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, met with Kim Yong-il, a secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, according to the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency in a statement that didn’t give further comments.

Japanese media reported photos of Iijima being greeted by a senior North Korean foreign ministry official and a group of people as he arrived at the airport in Pyongyang on Tuesday, indicating he was there on an official visit.

But the Japanese government declined to comment on the details of Iijima’s visit.

The Korean Foreign Ministry yesterday indicated there was no prior notification from the Japanese government about his visit.

“The Japanese government notified us yesterday, on May 15, through diplomatic channels,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young, “And expressed to us regret for the delay in giving an explanation.”

“Our government believes it is important that of course Korea, U.S., Japan and the international community maintain close communication for a mutual assistance system regarding North Korea,” Cho stated.

“And on that level, Iijima’s visit to North Korea was not helpful,” Cho added, a message that he said Seoul officials conveyed to Tokyo, in a rare move for the Korean government to criticize a Japanese official’s secret trip to North Korea.

The Foreign Ministry did not elaborate on further details of Iijima’s visit or the details of Japan’s explanation of it. Kyodo News reported yesterday that sources said Iijima is expected to stay in Pyongyang until today and may discuss the issue of the abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

Sankei Shimbun reported yesterday that the trip was considered by the Abe government since mid-April, in the midst of North’s missile provocations, as a means to open a dialogue channel and also discuss the abduction issue with the North.

Iijima previously was secretary to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and made landmark visits to Pyongyang in 2002 and 2004 to resolve issues of abducted Japanese citizens in North Korea.

Talks between Pyongyang and Tokyo were stalled since last August, prior to which they were stalled for four years.

This comes with efforts and close communication between Washington, Seoul and Beijing to penalize Pyongyang for its wayward behavior while urging a return to dialogue.

China has pursued its two-track policy of its banks cutting off financial ties with the North while still attempting to draw North Korea into dialogue with its closest ally. Along with imposing the UN Security Council sanctions, following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test February, the Chinese government even implemented limited travel bans to North Korea.

After leaving Seoul on Tuesday, Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy on North Korean issues, in Beijing on Wednesday stated that the Bank of China’s decision last week halting business with North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, which Washington accuses of financing Pyongyang nuclear weapons program, is a “significant step taken by the bank.”

In the midst of his weeklong Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo trip, Davies told journalists in Beijing that he was given some information on Iijima’s visit after speaking with a senior Japanese official but intends to speak with officials in Tokyo before commenting.

Davies meets with Tokyo government officials today.

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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