Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Sunday sought cooperation from Mongolia over efforts to settle the issue of past abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea, as Ulaanbaatar maintains friendly ties with Pyongyang.

During talks between Kono and his Mongolian counterpart, Damdin Tsogtbaatar, in the Mongolian capital, the two agreed on the importance of fully implementing U.N. sanctions against North Korea to push the country toward denuclearization, according to Japanese officials.

Kono said the two countries are strategic partners sharing universal values and that he hopes to further develop their relationship. Tsogtbaatar agreed to deepen ties.

Tokyo, which has no diplomatic ties with North Korea, has often looked to Mongolia to act as a mediator. It is the first time in about nine years that a Japanese foreign minister has visited the country.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently stepped up efforts to reach out to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying he is willing to hold a meeting "without preconditions" — a shift from his previous position that any summit should yield progress on the abduction issue.

North Korea has so far reacted coldly, with its state-run media quoting a spokesperson for the country's Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee earlier in the month as calling the offer "brazen."

Japan officially lists 17 people as victims of abduction, five of whom were repatriated in 2002, and suspects the North's involvement in many other disappearances.

Kono will return to Japan on Monday.