Abe to meet with adviser over N. Korea trip Tues. at earliest

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be briefed as early as Tuesday by Isao Iijima, his key advisor whose recent surprise visit to North Korea for talks on the long-standing abduction issue has come under the spotlight, officials said Monday.

"I think we will let (Iijima) directly report (to Abe)," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference. Iijima separately told reporters that he would meet with Abe on May "21st or later."

Abe has expressed his strong desire to address the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s that have prevented the two countries from normalizing their relations.

"It is a problem that Japan must solve by playing a leading role," Abe told a Diet committee session, amid criticism that Tokyo did not inform its key allies in dealing with the North -- the United States and South Korea -- of Iijima's trip to Pyongyang in advance.

The unilateral move came on the heels of the international community launching a united front against North Korea's nuclear and missile ambitions. Officials in Tokyo briefed their counterparts in Washington and Seoul on the four-day trip only after Iijima returned home Saturday by way of China.

Suga, the top government spokesman, reiterated Abe's intention to solve the problem during his administration, referring to the hopes of the aging parents or relatives of abductees.

Japan is employing both "dialogue and pressure" to deal with North Korea, he said. "The door for dialogue is always open."

Suga met with Iijima on Saturday, and Iijima told Suga he had conveyed to senior North Korean officials Abe's position that Japan would not take any action unless Pyongyang first solves the abduction issue, according to informed sources.

Iijima as top aide to Junichiro Koizumi accompanied the then prime minister on his two visits to Pyongyang in September 2002 and May 2004 for talks with Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader at the time. Those talks led to the return to Japan of five abductees.

During the latest trip, Iijima met with senior North Korean officials, including No. 2 leader Kim Yong Nam.

Keiji Furuya, Japanese minister in charge of the abduction issue, said in a television program Monday that he "had not expected" Iijima would meet with Kim, who presides over North Korea's parliament.