In a departure from usual diplomatic practice, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori last summer faxed a letter to North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il without first consulting with the Foreign Ministry, a newspaper said Sunday.
Mori sent the fax to a senior official in North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party who was visiting Beijing at the time, the nationwide Yomiuri Shimbun reported, citing unidentified government sources.
In the handwritten letter, Mori was thought to have invited Kim to meet with top Japanese leaders in the near future in an effort to improve relations between the longtime rivals.
Someone is believed to have related the contents of the fax to Kim, the report said.
“Such important communications by the prime minister are commonly entrusted to special envoys. Sending the letter by fax was extremely unwise, as doing so exposed it to third parties,” the front-page article said.
Kazuhiko Koshikawa, a spokesman for Mori, said Sunday that the prime minister has told opposition lawmakers questioning him on the affair that he never sent the fax. Koshikawa could not immediately elaborate.
Japanese are sensitive to issues related to North Korea, which lobbed a rocket over the Japanese archipelago in August 1998, rattling nerves across the region.
Japan’s government also believes North Korean agents have kidnapped 10 people from coastal towns, possibly to train spies in the Japanese language and culture.
The newspaper report could mean added trouble for the embattled Mori.
Since he took office in April 2000, he has been embroiled in several scandals ranging from allegations of personal misconduct to remarks echoing the jingoism of Japan’s wartime leadership.
His public support has crashed below 10 percent, making him the second-most unpopular Japanese leader since World War II, after former premier Noboru Takeshita.