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Aide to Japan's leader pays unannounced visit to North Korea

May 14, 2013|By Don Lee
  • Isao Iijima, right, a top advisor to Japan's prime minister, arrives in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Tuesday for an unannounced visit.
Isao Iijima, right, a top advisor to Japan's prime minister, arrives… (Kim Kwang Hyon / Associated…)

BEIJING -- A senior aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived Tuesday in North Korea, but neither country gave a reason for the unannounced visit that followed weeks of high tension in the region over the North's nuclear and missile tests.

The sudden trip by Isao Iijima touched off speculation in the Japanese media that Abe was seeking to revive the long-standing issue of North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens, as well as perhaps to prepare the stage for a visit to Pyongyang by the prime minister.

Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, and intergovernmental talks between the two sides were suspended after the North launched a long-range rocket in December, followed by a nuclear weapons test in February.

The Japanese government provided no explanation for Iijima's visit. Japan's Kyodo News agency showed video footage of the aide arriving in Pyongyang and being received by someone identified as Kim Chol Ho, vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's Asian Affairs Department.

Kyodo said Iijima was believed to be staying in Pyongyang for several days and may meet with senior officials of the North Korean government in an effort to improve relations.

North Korea's official news agency issued a one-sentence statement saying that Iijima and a companion had arrived in Pyongyang.

Iijima, whose official title is cabinet secretariat advisor, was for many years a top aide to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who visited Pyongyang for talks with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2002 and 2004.

In 2002 Pyongyang admitted that its agents had kidnapped Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s for its spy training program, and then let five of them return to Japan. Abe played a key role in representing the abductees' families. As prime minister, he has pledged to deal resolutely on this matter.

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