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Japan said Tuesday it is not ready to respond to North Korea’s proposal to hold the next round of normalization talks later this month, citing slow progress on the issue of abducted Japanese.

There has been no progress in bilateral negotiations to set a date for the next session of talks, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said.

Fukuda also denied a media report that Japan and North Korea are negotiating to hold talks in Beijing, in a separate channel from the normalization talks, to seek a breakthrough in the deadlocked negotiations on the abductions.

“We know the proposal was made, but we cannot say there is no connection between” the normalization talks and the series of abductions of Japanese by North Korean spies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Fukuda said. “An important factor (before setting a new date for talks) is whether we can see (more) progress on the abduction cases.”

During the last round of bilateral talks held in Kuala Lumpur in late October, North Korea proposed that the next session be held in late November.

But the Japanese side did not commit immediately, saying it would study the proposal after returning home. Japan has been stalling because Pyongyang has refused to allow the families of the five freed abductees to be reunited with them in Japan.

The Mainichi Shimbun reported Tuesday that Japan is considering holding high-level talks with North Korea in the Chinese capital to reunite the families.

“We are not considering anything concrete,” Fukuda said, commenting on the report.

The last round of normalization talks was the first since October 2000. Normalization talks began in 1991, but they have frequently been suspended due to differences over key issues, including the abductions and North Korea’s request for compensation for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

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