Japan's prime minister is not commenting on speculation he might again travel to North Korea to break the impasse on Japanese citizens abducted by the North - the major barrier to improved relations between the two countries.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday refused to confirm reports that a second visit to North Korea is in the works. Mr. Koizumi told reporters there is nothing he can say at this stage.

Japanese media, quoting government sources in Tokyo, are reporting that Japanese negotiators proposed such a visit during talks with North Korean officials last week in Beijing.

There is speculation that a visit will take place once North Korea promises to allow eight family members of Japanese abductees to travel to Japan. The family members were forced to remain in North Korea when five abductees were allowed to return to Japan in late 2002. That concession came after Mr. Koizumi's first visit to Pyongyang, in September of 2002.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda was asked Monday whether Mr. Koizumi is preparing for a second visit, and whether further bilateral talks will be held this week.

Mr. Hosoda says the North Koreans last week appeared more receptive than previously to a discussion of the abduction issue. However, he says no concrete progress was made on new talks.

At least a dozen Japanese were kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s to train North Korean spies in Japanese language and culture.

The eight abductees' relatives include an American serviceman who allegedly defected to North Korea, and who married one of the kidnapped Japanese. Japan wants the eight released, and also wants more information about a further eight abductees that Pyongyang says are dead.

The two countries will be able to discuss the matter later this week in Beijing, on the sidelines of a working-level meeting concerning another contentious issue, North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

The United States and its allies have demanded that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program entirely. Two rounds of six-nation talks have already been held on the issue, including the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and Russia.

An editorial Monday in Rodong Sinmun, an official North Korean newspaper, says settlement of the nuclear issue entirely depends on the attitude of the United States. The editorial says Washington must take a "trustworthy step" to move the nuclear talks forward.

At the same time, North Korean state radio (the Voice of Korea) accused Washington of preparing to ignite a "second Korean War," and said the communist State thus has no alternative but to deploy nuclear weapons.

The strengthening of nuclear deterrent force by the DPRK is just a defense measure taken to curb the U.S. pre-emptive nuclear strike and armed invasion.

Meanwhile, Japan's Yomiuri newspaper has reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told China's president last month that Pyongyang will not completely scrap its atomic weapons - an essential element of Washington's demand.

The newspaper says Mr. Kim told Chinese President Hu Jintao that North Korea would only offer to freeze its military-related nuclear development, and then only if it receives a guarantee of energy aid in exchange.