A senior North Korean diplomat has practically acknowledged that North Korea and Japan made contact in July in Vietnam, but said no substantial progress was made toward the holding of summit talks between their leaders, it was learned Saturday.
The disclosure was made to Kyodo News by Shingo Kanemaru, the second son of the late Shin Kanemaru, a former vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party who worked toward the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in the 1990s.
Kanemaru, 73, held talks with Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador for negotiations to normalize relations with Japan, during a five-day trip to Pyongyang that ended Saturday.
On the issue of past abductions of Japanese nationals, Song reiterated the official line that the abduction issue has been solved, saying that there are no Japanese abductees still alive in North Korea, according to Kanemaru.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s but alleges their involvement in many more disappearances. Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002.
In order to realize Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's stated desire for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Song said Japan needs to make a "sincere apology" for the country's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
By emphasizing that the environment for a summit is not yet in place, Pyongyang, while acceding to limited contact with Japanese officials, appears to be assuming a posture of waiting for a change in Tokyo's mindset.
Kanemaru, who visited North Korea with officials of Yamanashi Prefecture, where he hails from, said he exchanged opinions with Song over several hours.
It was previously reported that Shigeru Kitamura, head of Japan's Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, and a senior official of North Korea's ruling party had a secret meeting in July in Vietnam.
Song downplayed the importance of the interaction to "seasonal greetings," saying the Japanese side just stated its basic stance on the abduction issue, according to Kanemaru.
Moreover, there was "absolutely no concrete proposal" from the Japanese government regarding summit talks between Abe and Kim, Kanemaru quoted him as saying.
At the same time, Song also voiced readiness to meet with Japanese government officials himself, saying that if a non-partisan delegation of lawmakers were to visit North Korea, he would "unreservedly welcome" them.
In September 1990, Shin Kanemaru co-headed a joint delegation of LDP and Japan Socialist Party members that went to North Korea. The parties signed a joint declaration with the ruling Workers' Party of Korea calling for the need to normalize diplomatic ties.
The elder Kanemaru, who died in 1996 at age 81, also held talks with the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung during the visit.
Shingo Kanemaru served as his father's secretary and was deeply involved in the negotiations at the time. Since then he has frequently visited North Korea.