Japan's Shinzo Abe says he could meet Kim Jong-un face-to-face and 'break the shell of distrust' with North Korea

Time for two nations to 'get off to a new start', Abe tells UN General Assembly

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 26 September 2018 12:54 BST
Japan's Shinzo Abe says he could meet Kim Jong-un face-to-face and 'break the shell of distrust' with North Korea

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has said he is open to meeting face to face with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, calling for a “new start” in relations between their two countries.

Mr Abe’s address to the UN General Assembly showed what a difference a year could make in international relations, after his speech last year called for greater international pressure on North Korea following a number of near-miss missile tests by Pyongyang.

Speaking in New York, Mr Abe reflected on the challenges he has faced during his tenure with what he called the “post-war structure of northeast Asia”, and said the denuclearisation of North Korea remained a top priority.

But he said the normalisation of international relations with North Korea – which started with inter-Korean cooperation at the Winter Olympics and culminated in a summit between Mr Kim and US president Donald Trump – would not be complete unless Pyongyang resolves the issue of past abductions of Japanese nationals.

“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.

It is the first time talks between Japan and North Korea have been mooted since the days immediately after the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, when the atmosphere of rapprochement prompted officials in Tokyo to start planning for a possible Kim-Abe meeting as early as the Eastern Economic Forum that took place on 10-13 September.

Since Singapore, talks between North Korea and the US have stalled, with Washington bemoaning the lack of concrete steps towards denuclearisation and Pyongyang accusing the Americans of wanting it to making concessions unilaterally.

North Korea was also on the agenda during Mr Trump’s speech at the UN on Tuesday. The president praised Mr Kim for his courage in taking steps to disarm, but said much work still had to be done and sanctions must remain in place until North Korea denuclearises.

"The missiles and rockets are no longer flying in every direction, nuclear testing has stopped, some military facilities are already being dismantled," Mr Trump said in his address.

”I would like to thank Chairman Kim for his courage and for the steps he has taken, though much work remains to be done.”

Like Mr Abe’s, Mr Trump’s remarks were very different from those in his speech last year at the assembly, when he threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea and mocked the North Korean leader as "Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission”.

At a meeting last week with South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in, Mr Kim promised to dismantle a missile site and also a nuclear complex if the US took "corresponding action”.

Mr Moon told an event in New York on the sidelines of the UN meeting this week that declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War would encourage North Korea to take further steps.

Mr Moon said Mr Kim had told him the "corresponding measures" he was seeking were security guarantees Mr Trump pledged in Singapore, and moves towards normalisation of relations with Washington.

"I believe that setting a timetable for all these measures is a task for the second US-North Korea summit," Mr Moon said, and in an interview with Fox News suggested such a summit could take place before the end of this year.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Monday he hoped to travel to North Korea again before the end of the year to make final preparations for a second Trump-Kim summit.

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