Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has refused to comment on the nature of the Japanese delegation's visit to North Korea. But he told a parliamentary committee Wednesday he is open to the possibility of meeting North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un to resolve outstanding issues between the two nations, which have no formal diplomatic ties.
For relations to improve, Abe says, there must be progress on several issues including the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents, as well as Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in violation of international resolutions.
The prime minister adds that his aim is to fully resolve, in particular, the abduction issue.
In 2002, the Japanese prime minister at the time, Junichiro Koizumi, met Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang and secured the release of five Japanese citizens.
The unexpected trip to Pyongyang by the Japanese came as a surprise to the South Korean and U.S. governments.
Sources say neither Seoul nor Washington were informed in advance.
In Seoul, a spokesman for the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of North-South relations, told reporters it would be inappropriate to comment about the trip by the Japanese.
South Korea's semi-official Yonhap news agency says it raises “concerns that the trip may undermine efforts in forging a coordinated approach toward the belligerent country.”
The top U.S. envoy tasked with North Korea issues, Glyn Davies, says he will discuss the trip with Japanese officials during his visit later this week to Tokyo.