Abe's aide Iijima briefs Suga about N. Korea visit

An adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe briefed Japan's top government spokesman Saturday about his unannounced trip to North Korea, as the premier vowed to resolve the longstanding issue of Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese nationals.

Isao Iijima met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga for about an hour at a Tokyo hotel soon after he returned to Japan, a Japanese government source said. Iijima wrapped up on Friday a four-day visit to North Korea that has sparked concerns from the United States and South Korea.

Observers of Japan-North Korean relations are paying attention to what kind of message senior North Korean officials conveyed to Iijima about improving bilateral relations, including the issue of the abduction of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s -- a key obstacle to normalizing bilateral ties.

"I received a report (of his trip) but I cannot comment," Suga told reporters after their talks in the Japanese capital.

Later Saturday, Suga is expected to brief Abe, who is visiting Oita Prefecture in southwestern Japan, by telephone about Iijima's trip, the source said.

In Oita, Abe told reporters, "My mission will not end until the day when all abductees' families will (reunite) and embrace their children" and he emphasized that the issue "must be resolved under the Abe Cabinet" through a policy of dialogue and pressure.

He said he will be briefed by Suga but should the need arise, he will talk directly with Iijima.

According to the source, Iijima told Suga he held "frank talks" with senior North Korean officials, including Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, North Korea's parliament, and Song Il Ho, ambassador for talks to normalize relations with Japan.

The premier's aide also told North Koreans about Japan's basic policy to comprehensively resolve the abduction, nuclear and missile issues, and that the abductions must be settled under Abe's government.

"The Japanese government will not take any action unless the issues are resolved," Iijima was quoted as telling the North Koreans, referring to the return of all abductees, the handover of the abductors and a full accounting of the abductions.

Iijima's trip, which came amid North Korea's increasing isolation in the international community over its nuclear and missile ambitions, surprised the United States and South Korea, which have been working closely with Japan on coordinating North Korea policy.

"We knew that North Korea would eventually shift their strategy to that of seeking engagement in an effort to split us and to exploit any differences in our respective national positions," Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, told reporters at the end of his Japan trip on Saturday.

But Davies said after meeting with officials in Japan that he is confident the Japanese government is "fully aware of the challenges and pitfalls of engaging North Korea."