After a hiatus of more than a year, Japan and North Korea are set to resume high-level talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes and the issue of Japanese citizens abducted decades ago, Japanese media said on Monday.
The media reports come after the parents of a Japanese girl who was abducted by North Korea more than three decades ago met their child’s daughter for the first time.
Japan has still to confirm the resumption of talks, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared his government’s commitment to find closure for families who were the victims of kidnapping.
"The Japanese government has been working hard to realise the meeting from the humanitarian point of view ... We are determined to do our utmost to resolve the abduction issue once and for all," Abe told reporters.
The restart of formal talks between senior diplomats is expected to be agreed upon as soon as this week, when more junior officials from both sides meet in Shenyang, China, on Wednesday and Thursday, the Yomiuri daily said.
The report said Junichi Ihara, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, will likely attend the high-level negotiations.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency carried a similar report as well.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, however, declined to confirm the reports, telling a news conference; "Nothing like that has been decided yet."
Formal meetings were suspended in December 2012 after North Korea test-launched a long-range missile.
On Sunday, North Korea test-fired 10 short-range missiles into the sea off the east of the Korean peninsula, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified South Korean government officials.
North Korea is not banned from test-firing short-range missiles under UN sanctions, and frequently tests its arsenal.
Japan’s ties with North Korea have been fraught due to Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programmes, and Japanese anger over the abduction of its citizens by North Korean agents decades ago.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies and said eight of them had died, including Megumi Yokota, who was abducted in 1977 on her way home from school at the age of 13.
Last week, Megumi Yokota’s parents spent several days with their 26-year old granddaughter, Kim Eun Gyong, in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, a venue Japanese and North Korean officials often use for unofficial contacts.
"It was dream-like." Sakie Yokota, 78-year-old mother of Megumi, told a news conference on Monday.
"What we had long been hoping for has come true. Those were miraculous days for us."