Rumors rise of Japan-North summit

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Rumors rise of Japan-North summit

South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it has no knowledge of a news report by a broadcasting station that Japan and North Korea had talks to arrange a summit meeting later this month.

During a press briefing Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Spokesman Noh Kwang-il said the government had no comment on the report on preparations for the summit.

“Though we have paid attention to the issue [of the summit between the two], the government has no knowledge on the reported plan by Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe to visit North Korea this month,” said Noh, adding that he understood Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo also denied the report.

Speculation over what would be a first summit meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Prime Minister Abe arose after broadcasting station YTN in South Korea reported that two officials from the powerful National Defense Commission in Pyongyang met with two Japanese officials from the Foreign Affairs Ministry last month in Mongolia, citing unnamed government sources, with a possible objective to settle terms to host a summit meeting in Pyongyang.

The news station added that Japan decided to soften its level of economic sanctions on the North during a bilateral meeting last month.

While Noh did not confirm the report, he did say that there had been “many channels” of communication between Tokyo and Pyongyang to settle the contentious issue of kidnappings of Japanese by North Korea.

The report on a possible summit came after Abe signaled his government could ease a package of sanctions on North Korea.

“We may need to explore options on North Korea that would be most effective in inducing the country to take a forward-looking behavior,” said Abe in an address at the House of Councilors in Tokyo on July 30.

If Japan has a summit with Kim, it could produce shockwaves in South Korea as President Park Geun-hye has not held a summit with Kim or Abe amid deteriorating relations with both nations.

Abe met late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang when he accompanied former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a summit in 2002 as chief cabinet secretary.

During that 2002 summit, Kim acknowledged his country had abducted Japanese citizens wrongfully and even apologized for it, a candid remark that surprised the world.

The former Japanese leader had another summit with Kim two years later also in the North Korean capital.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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