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Kono chat with N. Korea’s Ri seen as potential step toward summit

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri ShimbunSINGAPORE — Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s brief conversation with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Friday in Singapore marked the first contact between the two ministers since the Washington-Pyongyang summit meeting in June.

Attention is focused on whether such interactions will help Prime Minister Shinzo Abe realize direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

When asked by reporters Friday night about what he discussed with Ri, Kono declined to provide details, repeatedly saying, “I have no intention of talking about that.”

Following the U.S.-North Korea summit, the Japanese Foreign Ministry contacted Pyongyang through diplomatic channels, including embassies in Beijing, and proposed talks between Kono and Ri, according to a source knowledgeable about Japan-North Korea relations. However, the ministry did not receive a positive response from North Korea.

On Friday during a banquet for delegates to ASEAN-related meetings of foreign ministers, Kono approached and spoke to Ri. They remained standing as they talked briefly.

In approaching Ri, Kono sought to create an environment conducive to holding summit talks between Abe and Kim.

Abe has expressed a willingness to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang, saying: “I won’t overlook such a chance.”

A Japan-North Korea summit would be the first such meeting since 2004, when Junichiro Koizumi was prime minister.

Some officials in Tokyo suggested talks might be held during the Sept. 11-13 Eastern Economic Forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok, which Kim might attend.

However, it remains to be seen whether progress will be made on the issue of Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese nationals.

U.S.-North Korea talks on denuclearization are thought to have stalled. A senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said, “An environment in which Tokyo-Pyongyang [talks] can take place cannot be achieved if Washington-Pyongyang [talks] do not progress.”

North Korea has not changed its stance that the abduction issue has been resolved. The near-daily criticism of Japan by North Korean state media is also a matter of concern.

Abe has declared the abduction issue to be the most pressing matter facing his Cabinet. Action on the issue that does not yield results could shake the foundation of his administration.

“There is no need [for Abe] to push himself hard before the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election,” said a former minister close to Abe. Voting and ballot counting for the LDP poll are expected to take place on Sept. 20.Speech

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