TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday (Feb 13) he had asked North Korea's ceremonial leader Kim Yong Nam to return all Japanese nationals believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents, reported Japan's Kyodo news agency.
"I strongly, directly, asked Mr Kim Yong Nam to resolve the abduction issue, including by returning all the abductees home," Abe said at a House of Representatives committee meeting, referring to North Korea's ceremonial leader.
Abe shook hands and spoke briefly with 90-year-old Kim Yong Nam at a reception held last Friday (Feb 9) before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
In talks with reporters at his hotel later, Abe said: "I told (Kim Yong Nam) about our thoughts and positions, although I can't elaborate."
Japanese media reported that Abe took up the abductee issue and raised the topic of North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes with Kim Yong Nam.
Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, is leading North Korea's delegation to the Olympics. Its participation in the event has been viewed as a sign of easing ties between the two Koreas.
It was Abe's first interaction with a senior official representing the current regime led by Kim Jong Un, a grandson of founder Kim Il Sung. Under the current administration, Abe's adviser Isao Iijima met with Kim Yong Nam in May 2013.
The last time a Japanese leader visited North Korea was in 2002: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un's father.
Japan believes scores of its nationals were snatched away by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s to help the islolated regime train spies.
Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea's involvement in other disappearances in the 1970s and 1980s.
While five of the 17 were returned in 2002, Pyongyang maintains that eight have died and the remaining four never entered the country.