Japan-North Korea: An adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Abe arrived in Pyongyang by air on Tuesday. North Korea's vice director of the Asian Affairs Department of the Foreign Ministry, Kim Chol Ho, met Mr. Isao Iijima at Sunan airport. The press report did not state the purpose of the visit.
Press commentary noted that Iijima was a top aide to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who visited Pyongyang for talks with then North Korean leader Kim Chong-il in September 2002 and May 2004.
Comment: The visit is significant for several reasons. It is the first visit by a foreign envoy reported in the press since the end of the period of high combat alert on 30 April. Longstanding tension in relations and unrelentingly hostile North Korean propaganda would seem to make Japan the last country from which North Korea would accept an envoy at this time.
A review of North Korean media reports indicates that international contacts have not yet returned to normal. No other delegations have visited or departed this month, according to reports in the Korean Central News Agency. The North is buttoned up diplomatically, but Iijima's visit suggests it is open to some visitors who request access, even from Japan. That implies that the North's statement that it would not invite a US envoy to North Korea in connection with the Bae conviction was not a rejection of a request for a visit.
South Korea: On the 14th, the South Korean government again proposed working-level talks with North Korea on the return of industrial production materials and finished goods from the Kaesong industrial complex.
The Unification Ministry said in a statement that talks are needed to alleviate hardships facing local companies forced out of the complex located just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries.
"Seoul proposed the talks to be held at the Freedom House in the South Korean sector of the truce village of Panmunjom, and urges the North to respond to this latest call at their earliest convenience," according to a ministry spokesman.
Comment: This is the second time that South Korea has made such a proposal. The latest offer is much less imperious than that on 24 April.
The Japanese and the South Koreans appear to sense that prospects for low-key engagement with the North might be improving and are at least testing that hypothesis. Since 1 May, the North has displayed several indications that the tactics of aggressive confrontation are being replaced by a less prickly demeanor.
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