As the situation on the Korean Peninsula remains tense with North Korea continuing saber rattling against the United States and South Korea, the sudden visit to Pyongyang Tuesday by a Japanese delegation led by Isao Iijima remained a mystery.
The New York Times said Japanese officials refused to discuss the purpose of Iijima's visit as Japan and North Korea don't have formal diplomatic relations. The report said the two sides had had talks since last August but the negotiations broke off in December after North Korea tested a rocket.
Japan's Kyodo News reported Iijima, was met at the Pyongyang airport by Kim Chol Ho, identified as vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry. The Times said Kim's presence at the airport would suggest Iijima was in North Korea on official business.
At the same time, the Times said Abe's office wouldn't confirm Iijima's trip.
The Wall Street Journal reported the unannounced visit might be designed to improve bilateral relations, coming in the wake of the easing lately by North Korea of its provocative statements and threats.
The Journal quoted officials in Abe's office and the Japanese Foreign Ministry that they weren't aware of Iijima's visit or his intentions.
The Voice of America said, while the purpose of the trip wasn't clear, Japan has long been seeking to resolve cases of Japanese abducted over past decades by North Korean agents. The report said Iijima was also a top aide to former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who had twice met with the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il died December 2011 and his leadership role passed to his son Kim Jong Un.
The latest development comes as Japan, the United States, South Korea and China have been talking to one another to end the North's belligerence, which has escalated since the U.N. Security Council tightened sanctions against Pyongyang.
The U.N. action came after North Korea, despite strong objections from the international community, conducted a nuclear test in February.
Its threats since then have included making pre-emptive nuclear attacks against the United States and South Korea. Japan, along with the United States and South Korea, has been on the alert for long-range missile tests by the North.
The VOA report quoted Glyn Davies, the top U.S. diplomat responsible for North Korean matters, as saying he was unaware of the visit of the Japanese envoy to the North. Davies is on an Asian tour.
"I had not heard that," Davies was quoted as saying. "So that will obviously be something that I will discuss with the Japanese when I have a chance to talk with my counterparts there in a couple of days."
On the Japanese abduction issue, at least a dozen of people were reported to have been abducted in the 1970s and 1980s. Five were returned to Japan in 2002 and the North has maintained there are no other Japanese nationals in the country.
The Los Angeles Times also said Iijima's trip sparked speculation in that Abe was seeking to revive the long-standing abduction issue and to prepare for a visit to Pyongyang. The report said North Korea's official news agency issued a one-sentence statement saying that Iijima and a companion had arrived in Pyongyang.