The North Korean envoy to the talks to normalize relations with Japan said Monday that he has not heard anything about protests by Japan against the North's recent ballistic missile launch, seemingly contradicting remarks by Japanese officials.
Song Il-ho made the comments upon arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport to represent the North Korean delegation for a fresh round of talks with Japan on Tuesday on the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents decades ago.
North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the East Sea on Sunday, marking the second such test in recent days. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo that his government immediately lodged a "stern protest" with North Korea against the Sunday launch.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also reportedly instructed the Japanese delegates to raise the issue of the North's missile launch during the Tuesday talks in Beijing.
When asked about the protests by Japan and its plan to raise the issue of the missile launch during the Tuesday talks, Song bluntly replied, "I have not heard of it."
In late May, North Korea and Japan agreed to reinvestigate the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago. In return, Japan agreed to ease sanctions against North Korea if it lives up to its pledge.
"This round of talks is aimed at discussing about issues related to the North Korea-Japan agreement in May," Song told a swarm of journalists. "With regard to details of the talks, I will tell you when the talks are over."
Song, however, declined to answer when asked about the prospects of the Tuesday talks.
During the talks in Beijing, North Korea plans to inform Japan that it has set up a panel to investigate into Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North.
The May agreement was seen as a major breakthrough between the two nations. North Korea and Japan have never established diplomatic ties, and the abduction issue has long been a key stumbling block in normalizing their bilateral relations.
South Korea and the United States reacted cautiously to the deal between North Korea and Japan, with some critics saying it could weaken trilateral cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo against Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. (Yonhap)