North Korea says Japan PM requested summit with Kim Jong Un

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North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, said on Monday that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had conveyed his intention to meet the North Korean leader, state media reported.

But Kim said that improving relations between the two countries will depend on whether Japan, which occupied the Korean peninsula from 1910-45, can make practical political decisions.

“The prime minister should know that just because he wants to and has made a decision, it doesn’t mean he can or the leadership of our country will meet him,” Kim was quoted as saying in the KCNA report in Korean.

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She was quoted as saying Kishida had made his intention known through “another channel”, without giving details.

“What is clear is that when Japan antagonises the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and violates its sovereign rights, it is considered our enemy and will become part of the target,” Kim added, using the official name of North Korea.

Relations between the two countries have been strained over disputes dating back to Japan’s occupation. Koreans accuse Japan of forcing women to work in wartime brothels for the Japanese military and using forced labor, among other issues.

Kishida has said he wants to hold talks with Kim Jong Un “without any preconditions” and is personally overseeing efforts to realise the first such summit in 20 years.

Asked about Kim’s comment, Kishida reiterated the importance of a summit to resolve issues such as the matter of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang’s agents decades ago.

“Nothing has been decided for now,” he told reporters.

The United States, which is due to host Kishida for a summit with President Joe Biden on April 10, said it had been clear in emphasizing the importance of dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea.

“The United States stands with the long-suffering relatives of Japanese abductees, and we continue to urge the DPRK to right this historic wrong and provide a full accounting of those that remain missing,” a spokesperson for the US State Department added in an email, when asked about the KCNA report.

North Korea admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens decades earlier. Five abductees and their families later returned to Japan, saying the others had died.

However, Tokyo believes 17 Japanese were abducted, and continues to investigate the fate of those who did not return, according to Japanese media.

Japan’s top government spokesperson, Yoshimasa Hayashi, said North Korea’s assertion that the abduction issue had been resolved is “totally unacceptable”, underscoring potential obstacles to amending ties.

An official at South Korea’s foreign ministry said Seoul was in close talks with Tokyo on a range of issues related to North Korea including contacts between Japan and North Korea.

“South Korea, the US and Japan are closely cooperating to bring (North Korea) back to the path to denuclearisation,” the official said in a statement.

North Korea has long been banned from conducting nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by the UN Security Council and has been subject to UN sanctions since 2006.

Kim’s sister said last month Kishida may one day visit Pyongyang.

“If Japan ... makes a political decision to open a new path for improving ties based on mutual respect and respectful behaviour, it is my view that the two countries can open a new future,” KCNA quoted her saying.

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