NEW YORK – The foreign ministers of Japan and North Korea on Wednesday held talks for the first time in three years amid expectations that Pyongyang may start taking concrete steps toward denuclearization and engage in more dialogue.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters that he sat down with North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho for about 20 minutes at U.N. headquarters, without giving further details.
The meeting in New York, where the 73rd session of the General Assembly is underway, came a day after South Korea’s presidential office revealed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed during last week’s inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang his preparedness to engage in direct talks with Japan at an “appropriate time.”
“I have been debriefed that it was a substantial sit-down-style meeting,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference in Tokyo.
But Suga also said he would refrain from disclosing what the two foreign ministers discussed.
Kono is believed to have conveyed Japan’s stance that economic assistance will come after North Korea takes action to dismantle its missile and nuclear programs and tackles the abduction issue, and following the normalization of bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed a willingness to meet with Kim to resolve the long-stalled issue over Japanese who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.
“To settle the abduction issue, it is necessary for Japan and North Korea to talk directly,” said a senior Japanese diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Abe that during the inter-Korean summit he touched on the importance of improving ties with Japan and that Kim, in response, voiced readiness to do so by resuming talks with Tokyo when an opportune time arises.
It was the first time since August 2015 that a foreign ministerial meeting has taken place between Japan and North Korea, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry. Those talks were held between Fumio Kishida and Ri Su Yong.
Kono’s meeting with the North Korean minister followed a brief chat they had on Aug. 3 in Singapore on the sidelines of a regional security forum.
Kim has committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and U.S. President Donald Trump has also been saying he wants to meet with Kim again following their historic summit in Singapore in June.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit North Korea in October as part of efforts to arrange a second summit between Trump and Kim.