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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday he is ready to promote talks with North Korea to resolve the issue of the country's past abductions of Japanese nationals.
"I hope I can promote negotiations and dialogue (with Pyongyang)," Abe told reporters in the city of Fukuoka. "I will continue pressuring North Korea as long as the abduction issue remains unresolved."
His comments came after his adviser, Isao Iijima, made a surprise visit to Pyongyang, during which he demanded in talks with North Korean officials that Pyongyang return all of the Japanese abductees, hand over the abductors and provide a full account of the abductions.
In response, the North Korean officials told Iijima that they will report the Japanese government's demands to their leader Kim Jong Un, according to a Japanese government source.
Abe said he had been briefed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga about Iijima's trip but added, "I cannot reveal the content. I will talk with Mr. Iijima, if necessary."
"I am determined to achieve the return of all abductees, hunt for the truth of the abductions and secure the handover of abductors under my Cabinet," the prime minister said. "I will comprehensively resolve the issues of abduction as well as (Pyongyang's) nuclear and missile programs in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration."
In the declaration signed in Pyongyang in 2002 by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the two countries agreed to work toward the normalization of relations.
Regarding Iijima's trip, which raised eyebrows in Washington and Seoul, economic revitalization minister Akira Amari said in an NHK talk show that Japan will take the initiative in resolving the abduction issue.
"It is an extremely important issue separate from the interests of other countries," Amari said. "It is an area in which Japan should take the initiative."
Iijima's trip surprised the United States and South Korea, which have been working with Japan on coordinating their policy response to the North's nuclear and missile programs.
"Prime Minister Abe showed the resolve to move forward, even by a step or two, the abduction issue on his own when he formed the Cabinet," Amari said when asked about the purpose of Iijima's visit, adding he hoped the meaning of the trip would be inferred as government ministers are not supposed to comment on it.
The abduction issue remains a key obstacle to normalizing relations between Japan and North Korea.