US supports Japan’s push for talks with North Korea, envoy says By Reuters

© Reuters. U.S. Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues Julie Turner speaks to media at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, Japan February 14, 2024. REUTERS/John Geddie

By John Geddie

TOKYO (Reuters) -The United States supports Japan’s efforts to hold talks with North Korea and hopes any dialogue would seek to resolve issues ranging from regional security to human rights, Washington’s envoy on North Korean human rights issues said on Wednesday.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told parliament last week he wants to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and is personally overseeing high-level discussions with Pyongyang.

Japan’s Fuji TV reported on Wednesday that Kishida is considering visiting South Korea on March 20 to discuss issues including North Korea ahead of South Korean legislative elections in April.

“I can’t speak on behalf of the Japanese government on how those conversations are going,” Julie Turner, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, told media on a visit to Tokyo.

“On the U.S. side, we’ve made clear that we are open to dialogue with the North Koreans without preconditions and so I think that would also apply to our like-minded partners and our close allies,” she said.

Turner said any dialogue should seek resolution on issues including regional security, human rights, as well as the return of Japanese people abducted by North Korea decades ago – a key focus for Tokyo.

Another U.S. official, who did not want to be identified, said Washington would welcome high-level engagement between Japan and North Korea “on the condition that Japan smoothed over any issues in advance with South Korea given the sensitivities.”

The United States has worked hard to develop three-way coordination of policy on North Korea and other security issues between itself, Japan and South Korea.

Five abductees were returned to Japan following a summit between former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2002. The pair also met in 2004, the last face-to-face leadership talks between the countries.

The last leadership talks between the U.S. and North Korea took place under former President Donald Trump. They collapsed in 2019 and the U.S. has sought unsuccessfully to reengage with Pyongyang.

“Getting back to the table is the priority right now so that we can start working through those issues,” said Turner.

Turner said the U.S., through its embassy in Beijing, has also been pressing China not to forcibly repatriate North Koreans to Pyongyang where they would likely face persecution.

Up to 600 North Koreans have “vanished” after being forcibly deported by China in October, according to a Seoul-based human rights group which warned they may face imprisonment, torture, sexual violence and execution.

China “has and continues to hold to the argument that these individuals are economic migrants,” she said.

She said the U.S. is also growing concerned about new groups of North Korean workers being sent overseas.

“We certainly have concerns over Russia. There are many that still remain in China as well,” she said.

A 2017 U.N. Security Council resolution demanded that countries repatriate all North Korean workers by December 2019, saying their labour was exploited to earn foreign currency for North Korea’s banned nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

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