Japanese man detained in North Korea, government officials say
A Japanese man has recently been taken into custody in North Korea, government officials said Saturday, w ith Tokyo trying to gather information about the case.
A Foreign Ministry official declined to provide specifics such as the purpose of the manâs visit to North Korea, saying only that the ministry is in the process of confirming details.
The ministry has asked Japanese citizens to refrain from traveling to North Korea as part of its economic sanctions on the country.
In 1999, a Japanese newspaper reporter in North Korea was taken into custody on spy charges and detained for about two years.
Sources familiar with bilateral relations said last month that North Korea has established a team to negotiate with Japan, which itself is seeking direct talks to settle various issues.
The negotiating team was apparently established sometime between April and the historic U.S.-North Korea summit on June 12, reflecting a move by Pyongyang to explore dialogue with Tokyo in the midst of a rapid change in the geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea ju dged earlier this year that mending ties with Japan would become a future task if it moves to improve ties with the United States, South Korea and China, the sources said.
At a plenary meeting in April of the central committee of North Koreaâs ruling party, the policy of pursuing active dialogue with surrounding countries was adopted, they added.
Tokyo has long sought answers about the abduction of Japanese by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects the Northâs involvement in many more disappearances.
But no substantial progress has been made despite exchanges via the team, according to the sources, and prospects for making progress are clouded by the murky outlook for the ongoing denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea.
Japan is exploring the possibility of a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the occasion of internationa l gatherings in September, either in the Russian city of Vladivostok or New York.
After U.S. President Donald Trump met with Kim in Singapore in June, Abe, placing priority on resolving the abduction issue, expressed a willingness to hold direct talks with North Korea.
North Koreaâs negotiating team is believed to be playing a role in handling Pyongyangâs response to Japan.
So far, the North Korean side has conveyed to Japan that it has not abandoned a 2014 bilateral agreement to reinvestigate the whereabouts of abducted Japanese nationals. But the easing of Japanâs unilateral sanctions on North Korea is necessary for Pyongyang to agree to resume doing so.
In 2014, the two countries agreed that Pyongyang would reinvestigate the fates of all abduction victims. But North Korea disbanded the panel and effectively abandoned the bilateral agreement in 2016.
For its part, Japan maintains that it is ready to normalize ties and extend economic support if the abduction and other issues of concern are resolved and has relayed its willingness to hold summit talks.
But as matters now stand, North Korea officially takes the view that the abduction issue has been settled, the sources said.
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