Friday, May 23, 2014

N. Korean envoy leaves for Sweden to hold talks with Japan

A North Korean ambassador in charge of Japanese affairs on Friday left Pyongyang for negotiations next week in Sweden with senior officials from Tokyo.

"We are ready to discuss all kinds of issues," Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador for talks on normalizing ties with Japan, told reporters at Beijing's international airport on his way to Stockholm.

Japan and North Korea, which have no diplomatic relations, are scheduled to hold a three-day meeting from Monday in the Swedish capital.

Song held a similar meeting in late March in Beijing with a Japanese delegation led by Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry.

During the meeting, the first governmental one since November 2012, Song expressed concern about the possibility of North Korea losing its de facto embassy building in Japan.

North Korea is opposed to a Japanese court's decision to allow the sale of the General Association of Korean Residents' headquarters site and building in Tokyo, which had been put up for auction due to financial problems, to a realtor.

"It's unfair," Song said at the airport on Friday of the Tokyo High Court's rejection last week of an appeal by the association against the sale of its property to the Japanese firm.

Song, who is scheduled to leave Beijing for Stockholm on Sunday, said he will raise the property issue when he meets the Japanese delegation, again led by Ihara, but stopped short of going into details.

"Ahead of the talks, I cannot say anything more," he said.

Ihara, meanwhile, has been focused on making progress in resolving the issue of North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

Japan wants North Korea's commitment to reinvestigating the whereabouts of its nationals that Pyongyang agents had abducted and allowing all victims to return home.

North Korea, which admitted in 2002 to having abducted 13 Japanese, has repeatedly said the issue has been settled.

It is highly unusual for Japanese and North Korean senior officials to hold talks in Europe. Normally, they meet in a third country in Asia that has close ties with North Korea, such as China and Mongolia.

It was North Korea that proposed holding the meeting in Sweden, according to sources familiar with the situation.

North Korea has diplomatic relations with Sweden, which handles U.S. interests in the country.


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