Japan is working to arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong Un after the North Korean leader said he was open to talks, local media reported Thursday.
The Sankei Shimbun said Kim discussed the possibility during historic talks Tuesday with US President Donald Trump.
‘During the summit with Trump, Kim told Trump 'I can meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,'‘ the Sankei reported.
Japan wants the talks to push the emotive issue of citizens abducted by the North decades ago, which has seen little movement despite a whirlwind of diplomacy in recent months.
Government officials are weighing several scenarios, including Abe visiting Pyongyang in August, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Thursday.
Another scenario would see Abe meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the sidelines of a conference in Russia in September, the daily said.
Several Japanese media outlets said Thursday that Kim had expressed a readiness to meet Abe when he held a historic summit earlier this week with US President Donald Trump.
And Abe has already said publicly that he would meet Kim in order to resolve the abduction issue.
Japanese foreign ministry officials plan to hold talks with North Korean officials at an international security conference in Mongolia this week as they try to firm up plans, local media said.
‘If (Abe's) visit to Pyongyang in August proves difficult,’ he could hold talks with Kim on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia's Vladivostok in September, the Yomiuri said.
Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga declined to confirm the reports, telling reporters Thursday ‘nothing has been decided at the moment.’
‘If a Japan-North Korea summit takes place, it is extremely important that it would lead to a solution of the nuclear, missile, and above all, abduction issues,’ he added.
The issue of Japanese citizens who were abducted in the 1970s and 1980s to help Pyongyang train its spies has long soured already strained relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
The Japanese government has officially listed 17 people as abductees, but there are strong suspicions that dozens more were snatched.
Abe will meet later Thursday with relatives of those abducted and pledge to resolve the issue in talks with Kim, local media said.
Japan has repeatedly called for the issue to be raised in discussions with Pyongyang, and Trump said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that he had discussed the issue with Kim.
Japan has maintained a hardline position on North Korea despite the stepped-up diplomacy with Pyongyang in recent months, and has been left largely on the sidelines as South Korea and the United States have held talks with Kim.
Kim and Trump signed a document on Tuesday after their talks in which the North Korean leader reaffirmed his commitment to ‘work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula’, without giving further details.
It made no reference to other weapons capabilities, including the missiles that North Korea has fired over Japan, nor to people abducted by North Korea.