Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said July 3 that Japan will partially lift economic sanctions against North Korea after judging that Pyongyang was serious about reinvestigating its abductions of Japanese nationals.
North Korea has set up a special committee to determine the status of the missing Japanese, and its composition was apparently enough to convince Abe of North Korea’s sincerity.
“We made the judgment that an unprecedented structure has been established with agencies involved in important state decisions, such as the National Defense Commission and the Ministry of State Security, playing central roles,” Abe told reporters at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo. “We will lift some of the sanctions imposed by Japan on the principle of an action for an action.”
The Cabinet will formally approve the lifting of three sanctions on July 4, when the North Korean special committee is expected to begin work.
The three sanctions are: restrictions on the flow of people between Japan and North Korea, including the entry ban imposed on North Korean officials; the requirement to report the taking out of Japan of 100,000 yen ($985) or more in currency or the transfer of 3 million yen or more to North Korea; and the embargo on North Korean registered ships involved in humanitarian activities.
Other sanctions will remain in place, including the ban into Japanese ports of the Man Gyong Bong-92 cargo-passenger ship as well as the ban on charter flights from North Korea to Japanese airports.
The abductions are believed to have occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, largely to help North Korean spies learn the Japanese language.
In 2002, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted to the abductions in talks with visiting Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Five of the abductees were later repatriated.
Pyongyang insisted that all the other Japanese had either died or never set foot in the country. Japan rejected that claim, and the abduction issue has been a thorn in talks on normalizing relations between the two countries.
However, the administration led by Abe, who has long put priority on resolving the abduction issue, decided to hold talks with the cash-strapped country despite its continued belligerence, including missile launches and threats of a nuclear test.
Tokyo lists 12 Japanese as having been abducted by North Korea but whose whereabouts remain unknown.
According to Japanese government officials, North Korea's National Defense Commission, the supreme leadership body headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, gave the special committee the authority to investigate all government bodies in North Korea. It also has the special authority to mobilize personnel from relevant agencies and other individuals if the need arises during the investigation.
About 30 individuals will work for the special committee, including officials from the State Security Ministry, which oversees the secret police, the Ministry of People’s Security, which is in charge of the ordinary police, and the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, which oversees the military.
So Tae Ha will be named chairman of the special committee, a post equivalent to vice minister. He currently serves as councilor in charge of security at the National Defense Commission as well as a vice minister in the State Security Ministry.
So is a close associate of Kim Jong Un, government sources said.
The committee’s vice chairmen will be Kim Myong Chol, a councilor in the State Security Ministry, and Pak Yong Sik, a department director in the Ministry of People’s Security.
Four subcommittees will be set up to handle separate tasks: investigating the status of the Japanese abductees; checking into Japanese considered missing; studying the remains of Japanese buried in North Korea; and determining the status of Japanese who have remained in North Korea as spouses of North Korean nationals.
Branches of the State Security Ministry will be established in local areas to aid in the investigation.
At his July 3 news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was asked when the government expected North Korea to submit its first report on the investigation.
“We share the understanding with North Korea that a desirable timing would be between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn this year,” Suga said.
Officials of Japan and North Korea agreed in late May to the formation of the special committee. They also agreed that the special committee would have the authority to investigate all North Korean agencies.
Junichi Ihara, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, met with his North Korean counterpart in Beijing on July 1 and received an explanation about the structure of the special committee.
The government held a meeting on July 3 involving nine ministers belonging to the National Security Council, including Abe, Suga and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
Shigeru Yokota, the father of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Koreans in 1977 when she was 13, indicated that he expected the special committee to produce results.
“While it may take some time, I believe some effects will emerge because unlike the past, the latest committee includes officials from the National Defense Commission and State Security Ministry,” said Yokota, 81.
He also said he saw no problem in the partial lifting of Japanese sanctions against North Korea.
North Korean officials have said Megumi committed suicide.
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