North Korea

North Korea’s Kim willing to talk to Japan ‘any time’, says Seoul

South Korean government passed on message to PM Shinzo Abe in phone call, to try to counter image of Tokyo being sidelined in regional diplomacy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 5:12pm

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is ready for dialogue with Japan “any time”, Seoul’s presidential office said on Sunday, as concerns grow in Tokyo that it is being sidelined from the reconciliation drive with Pyongyang.

Kim met South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a historic summit on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom – becoming the first leader from the North to set foot in the South after the 1950-53 Korean war.

Infographic: understanding North Korea

The summit – only the third ever between the leaders of the two neighbours – came before Kim’s planned meeting with US President Donald Trump after months of tension surrounding North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Japan – the main US ally in Asia – has long maintained a hardline position on negotiations with Pyongyang, but has found itself left on the sidelines of the recent whirlwind diplomatic activity.

Hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had earlier told Seoul of his intention to have talks with the North – a message Moon relayed at Friday’s summit with Kim, the South Korean president’s spokesman said.

“President Moon told Kim that Prime Minister Abe had an intention to talk to the North and … normalise diplomatic ties between the North and Japan,” Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters. “And Kim said that the North was willing to talk to Japan any time.”

Kim Eui-kyeom said Moon told Abe about the North Korean leader’s response in a phone conversation on Sunday morning.

Abe said Tokyo would try to create “an opportunity to talk to the North”, with Moon’s help if necessary, and the South’s leader said he would be “happy to build a bridge” between the two nations, according to Kim.

The Japanese premier had cautiously welcomed the inter-Korea summit but urged Pyongyang to take “concrete action” towards nuclear disarmament.

Tokyo had earlier called for Seoul to address at the summit the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North – a major domestic issue in Japan – but Moon’s office did not mention the topic on Sunday.

Japan has demanded that Pyongyang provide information about its abducted citizens, believed to have been taken to provide language training to North Korean spies.

The two Koreas share resentment towards Tokyo’s brutal 1910-45 colonial rule of the peninsula and the North has regularly threatened to attack Japan, which is well within the range of its missiles.