Japanese, North Korean foreign ministers hold first talks in three years in New York

Tokyo would not say what was discussed at the 20-minute meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 4:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 10:00pm

The foreign ministers of Japan and North Korea on Wednesday held talks for the first time in three years, amid expectations Pyongyang may start taking concrete steps towards denuclearisation and engage in more dialogue.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters that he sat down with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-ho for about 20 minutes in the UN headquarters, without giving further details.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un apparently told South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week in Pyongyang that he was prepared to engage in direct talks with Japan at an “appropriate time”.

“I have been debriefed that it was a substantial sit-down style meeting,” Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a press conference in Tokyo.

But Suga also said he would not say what the two foreign ministers discussed.

Kono is believed to have conveyed Japan’s stance that economic help will come after North Korea takes action to dismantle its missile and nuclear programmes and tackles the issue of its past abductions of Japanese citizens, and also following normalisation of bilateral relations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed a willingness to meet Kim to resolve the long-stalled issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

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“To settle the abduction issue, it is necessary for Japan and North Korea to talk directly,” a senior Japanese diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

On Tuesday, Moon told Abe that during the inter-Korean summit he touched on the importance of improving ties with Japan and Kim, in response, voiced readiness to do so by resuming talks with Tokyo when an opportune time arises.

It was the first time since August 2015 that a foreign ministerial meeting has taken place between Japan and North Korea, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry. Those talks were held between Fumio Kishida and Ri Su-yong.

Kono’s meeting with the current North Korean foreign minister followed their brief chat on August 3 in Singapore on the sidelines of a regional security forum.

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Kim has committed to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and US President Donald Trump has also been saying he wants to meet Kim again following their historic summit in June in Singapore.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to visit North Korea in October as part of efforts to arrange a second summit between Trump and Kim.