A senior official of North Korea's secret police organ directly linked to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Japan's top diplomat for Asian affairs at a closed-door meeting last month to discuss Pyongyang's past abductions of Japanese nationals, diplomatic sources close to Tokyo and Pyongyang said Tuesday.
The North Korean representative and Junichi Ihara, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, apparently held the secret contact around Aug. 21 in Kuala Lumpur, the sources said.
The official belongs to the Ministry of State Security, which is leading North Korea's reinvestigation into the fates of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s following an accord between Tokyo and Pyongyang in May.
North Korea's special committee on the Japanese abductees, launched on July 4, is expected to issue the first report of its probe into the whereabouts of the Japanese abductees including the 12 Japanese nationals on Tokyo's official list of 17 abduction victims.
Japan believes it must get a grasp on the progress made so far by the committee but has found limitations to holding dialogue with the North through the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, the sources said.
For a better picture on the progress over the abduction issue, Ihara, who serves as its chief negotiator in government-to-government talks with North Korea, was sent to represent Japan in the secret meeting late last month.
During their secret contact, the North Korean side did not provide any new information about abductees and called for Tokyo to take steps such as lifting a ban on the Mangyongbong-92 passenger-cargo ferry entering Japanese ports in exchange for the report on the abductees, the sources said.
But the two countries failed to fix the exact timing of the report's release, which was initially seen to be in the second week of September, as Ihara could not work out differences with the North Korean representative over the progress made in the new investigation on the abductees, according to the sources.
Japan plans to urge North Korea to take more steps to shed light into the abduction issue and obtain the report at an early date but there is a possibility the report may come in the third week of September or later.
Pyongyang's probe into the abductions was launched following an agreement between Japan and North Korea on May 29 under which Japan pledged to partially lift its unilateral sanctions on the North after Pyongyang agreed to form a special committee on the Japanese abductees.
After the committee was set up, Japan, in response, lifted some of its sanctions against North Korea.