TOKYO • North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho sounded out Japanese counterpart Taro Kono about a possible dialogue between their countries during a short conversation that both had on Aug 6 in Manila, government sources said.
The aim of Mr Ri's suggestion was believed to be to rattle Japan by hinting that there is room for negotiation, as Japan, the United States and other countries are stepping up international pressure on North Korea to stop nuclear and missile development by the administration of leader Kim Jong Un, according to The Japan News.
Mr Kono had a brief exchange with Mr Ri on the evening of Aug 6 at the venue for a dinner party for foreign ministers attending the Asean forum.
During the conversation, Mr Kono told Mr Ri that his country should take concrete action to comprehensively resolve the nuclear and missile development issue as well as the issue of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea, based on the 2002 Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration, The Japan News reported.
In response, Mr Ri expressed North Korea's desire to hold a dialogue, the sources said.
Observers said Mr Ri's remarks may have been aimed at eventually holding direct negotiations with the administration of US President Donald Trump, based on a strategy of securing concessions from the US while continuing North Korea's development of missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the US mainland.
North Korea had warned that it was considering plans to fire missiles towards the US Pacific island of Guam.
But North Korean media later reported that Pyongyang leader Kim had delayed the decision, prompting a tweet from Mr Trump yesterday to laud Mr Kim for his "wise" decision.
A government source said Mr Ri's remarks could reflect North Korea's hopes that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is on good terms with Mr Trump, will serve as a bridge between Pyongyang and Washington, The Japan News said.
It added that Mr Abe and Mr Trump agreed in a telephone conference on Tuesday that there is no meaning in dialogue for dialogue's sake, and that the international community must be united in putting pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arms and missile programmes.
Japan and the US are set to hold a "two-plus-two" meeting of their foreign and defence ministers in Washington this week. Mr Kono and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera will meet US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to Reuters.
They intend to discuss in detail how Japan's Self-Defence Forces and the US military forces will deal with the North Korean issue.
Meanwhile, Japan yesterday conducted air manoeuvres with US bombers south-west of the Korean peninsula involving two US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flying from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam and two Japanese F-15 jet fighters, Japan's Air Self Defence Force said in a news release.