TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is willing to meet North Korea's Kim Jong Un for a "candid discussion" without any preconditions, the Sankei newspaper reported.
"I am hopeful that he's a leader who knows what's best for his country, and is willing to be flexible and make strategic judgments," Mr Abe was quoted as saying in an interview on Wednesday (May 1).
The offer for unconditional talks with the one of the US's closest allies could open another avenue of negotiation for Mr Kim, after his summit with President Donald Trump broke down in February.
Last month, the North Korean leader met Vladimir Putin and asked for his help in resolving the impasse, asking the Russian leader to convey his views to Mr Trump.
For Mr Abe, a meeting with Mr Kim would help bring Japan back into the conversation as it seeks guarantees of its own safety from North Korea's weapons programme. Any discussions should be based on a 2002 framework adopted by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, Mr Abe told the Sankei.
A key friction point has been Japan's demands for the return of a dozen of its citizens believed kidnapped and taken to North Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with North Korea denying that any are still alive.
Mr Abe said that he raised the topic with Mr Trump during a 50-minute car ride to play golf in the US last week and that he hoped the President would meet abductees' families when he visits Japan later this month.
Mr Kim may be more open to a meeting with Mr Abe now. Although Mr Putin extended an invitation to Mr Kim almost a year ago, the North Korean leader only accepted it after his second summit with Mr Trump ended without any agreement to relieve United Nations sanctions that are choking his economy.
Since then, North Korea has complained that intermediaries to Mr Trump - ranging from US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to the South Korean government - aren't getting his message across.
Meanwhile, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on Thursday that the government in Seoul was considering dispatching a special envoy to North Korea.
North Korea needed a "comprehensive approach" to nuclear talks, Ms Kang told a televised news briefing.