TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday that he was determined to meet North Korea's leader to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents, maintaining an offer to talk despite the North's missile launches.
"I am determined to meet with Chairman Kim Jong Un face to face, with no preconditions, to resolve the all-important abduction issue," Mr Abe said in a policy speech during a parliamentary session.
In 2002, North Korea admitted its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens decades before.
Japan says 17 of its citizens were abducted, five of whom were repatriated. North Korea has said eight are dead and another four never entered the country.
Mr Abe has vowed to pursue the issue until all the abductees return.
"The abductees issue is core to Abe's political identity and one of the reasons he's got to the position he has," said Professor Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Japan campus.
Staunch US ally Japan and North Korea have been rivals for decades. During periods of tension, North Korea has test-fired missiles into the seas near Japan and even over it.
Japan has condemned North Korea's missile test this week, which Mr Abe called a violation of United Nations sanctions.
North Korea said it had successfully test-fired a new submarine-launched ballistic missile from the sea, ahead of fresh nuclear talks with the US. Wednesday's launch was the most provocative by the North since it resumed dialogue with the US last year.
"As for the North Korean situation, we will do our utmost to secure the safety of the people, while working closely with the United States and cooperating with the international community," Mr Abe said.
Turning to ties with South Korea, soured by a feud over wartime labour, Mr Abe reiterated a call for Seoul to observe a promise to Tokyo.
Last October, South Korea's Supreme Court ordered some Japanese firms to compensate Koreans forced to work in their mines and factories during World War II.
Japan says the matter was settled by a 1965 treaty and that the court decision violates international law.
"South Korea is an important neighbour. I would like to ask them to observe a promise made between nations, based on international law," said Mr Abe.