Upper House member and former professional wrestler Antonio Inoki said North Korea has officially invited Japanese lawmakers to Pyongyang to discuss such long-standing issues as the abduction of Japanese nationals and normalization of relations.
Inoki made the comment in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun at his office in Tokyo on Jan. 17 after visiting North Korea from Jan. 13 until Jan. 16. Inoki, 70, a member of the Japan Restoration Party, has made the most visits to the reclusive communist nation of any current Japanese lawmaker.
During his stay in Pyongyang, Inoki met with Kim Yong Il, a secretary in the ruling Workers' Party of Korea handling international affairs, along with high-ranking officials of the North Korea-Japan friendship association. Because Japan does not have diplomatic ties with North Korea, the association serves as a de facto liaison between the two nations.
Inoki said an association official told him, "We hope that efforts are made to promote friendship and goodwill between the peoples of the two nations in order to contribute to the normalization of relations between the two nations."
The official handed Inoki a document and invited a delegation of Japanese lawmakers to North Korea at an appropriate time this year.
Inoki asked if it would be possible to have Keiji Furuya, the state minister in charge of the abduction issue, visit North Korea. Kim said Furuya would be welcome to visit as well, according to Inoki.
The latest visit was the former professional wrestling great's 28th to North Korea.
In November, when Inoki made his most recent visit, he met with Jang Song Thaek, the uncle by marriage to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Jang was considered a mentor to the North Korean leader and the second most powerful individual in North Korea, but he was executed in December on charges of attempting to overthrow the state.
When Inoki met with friendship association officials during his latest visit, they criticized Jang as a traitor who betrayed the Workers' Party. They also told Inoki that there would be no change in their relationship with him.
Over the course of his many trips to North Korea, Inoki has worked to promote sports exchanges between Japan and North Korea. In November, goodwill matches were held in soccer and basketball between college students of the two nations.
Inoki is also planning to stage a professional wrestling event in Pyongyang this summer, and preparations are under way with North Korean officials.
"I want to make further efforts at exchanges with North Korea in the lead up to the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020," Inoki said.
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