TOKYO (AFP) –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, a daily said Thursday.
Abe, seen as a foreign policy hawk, has recently softened his rhetoric towards Pyongyang, calling for a summit with Kim to resolve an emotional row over past kidnappings of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang agents.
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,” the premier said.
“We can’t break the shell of mutual distrust between Japan and North Korea unless I directly face Mr. Kim,” he said.
“I hope that he is a leader who can make a decision strategically and flexibly on what is best for his nation,” he added.
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 itself 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 also told the Japanese newspaper that he had asked Trump to help resolve the abduction issue when they held talks at the White House on Friday.
Trump will hold another meeting with Abe in late May when he visits Japan as the first foreign head of state to meet Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito, who was enthroned on Wednesday.
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 and released what it said were the five survivors, saying eight others had died.
Campaigners, however, believe the disappearance of up to 470 Japanese may be linked to North Korea.
North Korean authorities have given no public indication of any willingness to meet Abe.