Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has offered to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “unconditionally” in a bid to restore diplomatic ties between the two historic foes.
In an interview with the Sankei Shimbun on Wednesday, Abe said: “I want to meet Chairman Kim Jong Un unconditionally and talk with him frankly with an open mind.”
“It is more than important for our country to be proactive in tackling the issue,” said Abe. “We can’t break the shell of mutual distrust between Japan and North Korea unless I directly face Kim.
“I hope he is a leader who can make a decision strategically and flexibly on what is best for his nation.”
North Korean authorities have given no public indication of any willingness to meet Abe.
But, even as a member of Japan’s foreign ministry called Pyongyang an “unprecedentedly serious and imminent threat” earlier this year, Abe in recent times has struck a more conciliatory tone, eyeing a “solution on North Korean matters”.
Earlier this year, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency called its neighbour a “heinous criminal state against humanity” and an “immoral and impudent country”.
Tokyo has been one of the most hawkish of the major powers on reclusive state North Korea and has been on the receiving end of some of Pyongyang’s harshest rhetoric – as well as missiles launched over its territory.
Until late 2017, North Korea repeatedly tested missiles that flew towards or over Japan, sparking warnings blared out on loudspeakers and stoking calls for a tough stance against Pyongyang.
However, Japan now finds itself battling to keep relevant in the fast-moving North Korea issue as Kim expands his diplomatic circle.
Kim met Russian leader Vladimir Putin last week after multiple meetings with US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.
Abe held talks with Trump in Washington last week and told a Japanese newspaper that he had asked the US president to help resolve the abduction issue.
Tokyo believes North Korean agents kidnapped Japanese nationals to train its spies in language and customs in the 1970s and 80s.
After years of denial, North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had taken 13 Japanese civilians hostage. Pyongyang said it had released five survivors, while eight others had died.
Trump is scheduled to visit Japan in May and will hold another meeting with Abe.
According to a Japan Times report earlier this year, Tokyo has repeatedly said it is making “every effort” to contact North Korea through diplomatic channels, including through embassies in Beijing.
But, the report added, there has been no response from Pyongyang.
“Japan-North Korea relations are in a stalemate,” a senior foreign ministry official in Tokyo said in January.