May 19, 2014 8:21 pm JST

Japan, N. Korea to hold talks May 26-28 in Sweden

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan and North Korea will hold talks on May 26 to 28 in the Swedish capital Stockholm, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday.

     Kishida told reporters that the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations, will discuss issues of mutual interest including North Korea's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

     As with the previous session in late March in Beijing, the talks will involve Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, and Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador for talks to normalize relations with Japan.

     "The abduction issue is, needless to say, among the most important agenda items of the Abe Cabinet," Kishida said, referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "We would like to draw a positive response from North Korea."

     A Japanese government source said separately that North Korea has expressed its readiness to hold a further round of talks in Stockholm on the given dates. North Korea has diplomatic ties with Sweden.

     It is rare for Tokyo and Pyongyang to hold talks in Europe. Officials from the two countries usually meet in a third country in Asia such as China and Mongolia.

     At the upcoming session, Ihara is expected to repeat Japan's demand that North Korea reinvestigate the whereabouts of Japanese abductees and allow all of them to return home.

     Song is likely to call on Japan to lift sanctions it has unilaterally imposed on North Korea.

     North Korea, which admitted in 2002 to having abducted 13 Japanese nationals, has repeatedly said the issue has already been settled.

     Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korea, but suspects Pyongyang's involvement in other disappearances. Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002.