New York, Sept 26, 2018 — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a longtime hardliner on North Korea, said yesterday he was willing to meet Kim Jong-un after the once reclusive leader’s historic summit with US President Donald Trump.
Abe, who one year ago warned at the United Nations that the window for diplomacy with North Korea was closing, took a more open but still cautious tone in his latest address to the world body.
But he said that any summit would be devoted to resolving a decades-old row over North Korea’s abductions of Japanese civilians — a deeply emotive issue for much of the Japanese public on which Abe built his political career.
“In order to resolve the abduction issue, I am also ready to break the shell of mutual distrust with North Korea, get off to a new start and meet face to face with Chairman Kim Jong-un,” Abe said in his UN address, while stressing that nothing was yet in the works.
“But if we are to have one, then I am determined that it must contribute to the resolution of the abduction issue,” he said.
North Korea kidnapped scores of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train the regime’s spies in Japanese language and culture.
Former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi traveled twice to Pyongyang to seek a new relationship with the current leader’s father Kim Jong Il and was told by North Korea that remaining abduction victims were dead — a stance adamantly rejected by Japanese family members and campaigners.
Speculation has been rising that Abe could meet with Kim, who reportedly told Trump during their summit in June in Singapore that he was willing to talk to arch-enemy Japan.
With South Korea’s dovish President Moon Jae-in also courting Kim, fears have risen in Japan that it could be shut out of any ultimate resolution on North Korea if it refuses dialogue.
Trump in his own UN address earlier yesterday pointed to his “bold and new push for peace” and saluted Kim’s courage.
It was a far cry from a year ago, when Trump stunned assembled leaders by threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea and belittling “rocket man” Kim.
Despite Trump’s optimism, many analysts are skeptical on how much North Korea has changed, saying the regime has already conducted the tests it needed to build its nuclear and missile programs.