TOKYO (Reuters) - 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 on Thursday.
The government of 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 mid-March that Japan was considering seeking a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim to discuss Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago.
The Asahi said in an article from Seoul Kim’s government had explained its bilateral diplomatic plans for South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, in that order.
Kim met President Xi Jinping in China this week, his first trip abroad since taking over as North Korean leader in 2011. Summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump are being planned for April and May, respectively.
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 Abe might meet Kim at some point. Kono said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday 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 $20 billion to $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 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.
Reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Linda Sieg; Writing by William Mallard and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Paul Tait