A top aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a surprise to North Korea on Tuesday, fueling speculation that Isao Iijima was sent to stage a potential Pyongyang visit by the Japanese leader.
Japan's government stayed mum on the purpose of the visit, and Shinzo Abe told a Japanese parliamentary committee that he had "no comment on reports regarding Iijima visiting North Korea," according to the BBC.
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However, Abe did note to the BBC that "our fundamental objective is to resolve the abduction issue, including the return of all abductees, revelation of the truth and the handover of the perpetrator to Japan" — indicating that Iijima's intentions may include negotiating a return of all surviving Japanese abductees to their native land.
North Korea allegedly kidnapped at least 17 Japanese citizens between 1977 and 1983 and employed them as mentors to communist agents hoping to pass themselves off as Japanese.
On the possibility of meeting North Korea's Kim Jong Un, Abe said, “Meeting is not the point ... There must be results,” according to Bloomberg.
North Korea's state news agency, KCNA, reported on the Japanese envoy's visit but provided few details.
Iijima previously served as a top aide to previous Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and previously visited North Korea to speak with Kim Jong Il, the current leader's late father, in 2002 and 2004.
In 2002, he successfully negotiated the release of five Japanese abductees.