Japan to take initiative on abduction issue with N. Korea: minister

Japan will take the initiative in solving North Korea's abductions of Japanese citizens, a minister said Sunday as a recent surprise visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's adviser to Pyongyang raised eyebrows in Washington and Seoul.

"It is an extremely important issue separate from interests of other countries," said economic revitalization minister Akira Amari in an NHK talk show. "It is an area in which Japan should take the initiative."

During his four-day trip through Friday, Isao Iijima demanded in talks with North Korean officials that Pyongyang return all Japanese abductees, hand over the abductors and provide a full accounting of the abductions, a government source said Saturday. But the trip has sparked concerns from the United States and South Korea.

"Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, showed a 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 that the meaning of the trip would be inferred as the government is not supposed to comment on it.

While Abe, who took office in December, has vowed to resolve the longstanding abduction issue, Iijima's move 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 issues.

The abduction issue remains a key obstacle to normalizing relations between Japan and North Korea.