Pyongyang has discussed the possibility of a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Asahi Shimbun reported on Thursday.
The news follows reports last week that Tokyo had expressed its interest to the North to hold talks.
The Asahi report, citing an unidentified North Korean source, said the leadership of the ruling Korean Workers Party has recently informed senior party officials through briefing papers that a “Japan-North Korea summit would possibly take place in early June.”
It marks the first time Kim has expressed interest in a summit between Japan and North Korea, which don’t have diplomatic ties, the Asahi said.
Asked about such a summit, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to give specifics but said it was a possibility.
“Japan and North Korea have been negotiating through various opportunities and in various channels, such as through the embassy in Beijing,” he said Thursday at a regular news conference.
The Asahi’s report from Seoul, quoting the briefing papers, said Japan has expressed its wish for a meeting through the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), Pyongyang’s de facto embassy in Japan.
The North’s briefing did not mention whether the isolated regime would take steps to resolve the thorny bilateral issue of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s — or international concerns over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, the Asahi said.
Instead, the North hopes to get between $20 billion and $50 billion in aid from Japan if it normalizes relations, the newspaper said.
Kim met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing earlier this week, his first known international trip as the leader of North Korea.
On Thursday, it was announced that Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in would meet on April 27. A summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump is also possible by the end of May.
The Asahi reported that a Japan-North Korea summit would likely take place after Kim’s meeting with Trump.
Top government officials, including Abe, Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, have said that maximum pressure against North Korea must be maintained until Pyongyang takes concrete steps toward complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization, an approach that is in sync with Washington.
Abe plans to visit Washington in April to meet with Trump and discuss the president’s planned meeting with Kim.
Japan, China and South Korea are expected to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula during a trilateral summit in May.
Tokyo has two goals for the potential Abe-Kim summit: to convince Pyongyang to scrap its midrange Rodong missiles, capable of striking Japan, and to secure the return of the abductees.