Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is still willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the government's top spokesman said Tuesday, after the White House ruled out a summit between Kim and U.S. President Joe Biden in the near future.
The overture underscores Tokyo's hope for progress in securing the return of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, but could be seen as a break from Washington's efforts to pressure Pyongyang to denuclearize.
Suga said after taking office last September he would inherit predecessor Shinzo Abe's willingness to meet with Kim "without preconditions."
Asked at a news conference Tuesday whether the offer still stands following the remarks from the White House, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Suga "firmly maintains" the stance taken by Abe.
Biden has said the United States would "respond accordingly" if North Korea chooses to further raise tensions following last week's ballistic missile test, but also said the door remains open for "some form of diplomacy."
Responding to a reporter's question Monday on whether this includes "sitting" with Kim, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, "I think his approach would be quite different, and that is not his intention."
The Biden administration is reviewing its North Korea policy after predecessor Donald Trump's three summits with Kim failed to produce a deal amid disagreement on the level of sanctions relief Pyongyang should get for winding down its nuclear and missile programs.
Meanwhile, Japan will extend by two years its own sanctions on North Korea, consisting of a total ban on bilateral trade and forbidding entry to ships that have stopped at a North Korean port, Kato said.
The sanctions, which were first imposed in 2006 and gradually expanded in scope, have gone through repeated extensions, with the latest deadline coming on April 13.
The latest two-year extension must be approved by the Cabinet.
The sanctions are aimed at pushing North Korea to address the abduction issue, though Japan's efforts have stalled after a 2014 agreement to investigate the fate of victims fell apart.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korean agents, including five who have been repatriated, but suspects their involvement in many more disappearances.
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