Japan offers talks with N. Korea: Report

Pyongyang has discussed possible leaders' meeting, adds newspaper

TOKYO • Japan has sounded out the North Korean government about a bilateral summit, and Pyongyang has discussed the possibility of a leaders' meeting with Japan, Japan's Asahi newspaper said yesterday.

The government of Mr Kim Jong Un has informed leaders of North Korea's ruling Korean Workers' Party of the possibility of a summit with Japan, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified North Korean source and briefing papers.

"The Japanese government has expressed a wish to host a leaders' meeting, via the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan", or Chongryon, Pyongyang's de facto embassy in Japan, the Asahi quoted the North Korean briefing papers as saying.

The Japanese government said it had been in touch with the North but declined to offer specific comment on the report.

"We have been communicating with North Korea through various occasions and means, such as a route via our embassy in Beijing, but I would like to refrain from going into specifics," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference.

A Chongryon spokesman in Tokyo declined to comment on the Asahi report.

A Japanese government source told Reuters in the middle of this month that Japan was considering seeking a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Mr Kim to discuss Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago.

The Asahi said that Mr Kim's government had explained its bilateral diplomatic plans for South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, in that order.

Mr Kim met President Xi Jinping in China this week, his first trip abroad since taking over as North Korean leader in 2011.

A summit with South Korean President Moon Jae In will be held on April 27. Another with US President Donald Trump is being planned for May.

The North Korean briefing papers cite the possibility of a Japan summit in early June, the Asahi said.

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono left open the possibility that Mr Abe might meet Mr Kim at some point.

Mr Kono said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday that Japan was closely watching preparations for the North-South Korean summit and the Trump-Kim meeting.

A Japanese ruling party lawmaker said the outlook for an Abe-Kim summit depended on how the earlier summits played out.

"There are stages and barriers," he told Reuters. "In particular, there's no guarantee Trump-Kim talks will go well."

The Asahi quoted another unidentified source as saying North Korea's "dialogue partner on security issues is America" but that the country "can only hope for large-scale financial assistance from Japan".

North Korea hopes to get US$20 billion (S$26 billion) to US$50 billion in aid from Japan if it normalises relations, the newspaper said. However, it said the briefing papers offered no specifics about steps to normalise bilateral relations, as agreed in 2002.

Those steps include resolving the abductee issue, as well as Pyongyang's missile and nuclear weapons development.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies, and five of them returned to Japan. Tokyo suspects that hundreds more may have been taken.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2018, with the headline 'Japan offers talks with N. Korea: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe