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N Korea at crossroads

Abe signals interest in meeting Kim after failed Hanoi summit

Japan sees opening for progress on abduction issue

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with reporters on Feb. 28 following a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday signaled a willingness to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to resolve the past abduction of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang following the latter's collapsed nuclear talks with the U.S.

"President [Donald] Trump brought up the abduction issue, which is important for Japan, during their one-on-one meeting on [Feb.] 27th," Abe told reporters after a phone conversation with the U.S. leader, who briefed Abe on his summit with Kim.

"They had a serious discussion during their dinner banquet as well," Abe said.

"I know that I need to face Chairman Kim myself next," Abe said. "Japan and the U.S. will continue to cooperate closely toward resolving the abduction, nuclear and missile issues."

North Korea often makes overtures to Japan when it hits roadblocks with the U.S., hoping that cozying up to an American ally might be a way to break through. Abe is fully aware of this behavioral pattern of the North and now sees an opening after the breakdown of nuclear talks.

Trump and Kim failed to make progress toward denuclearization this week, and a third summit is looking increasingly unlikely.

During nuclear negotiations, Kim had come to view Trump as the only negotiator worth talking to, making it impossible for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to serve as an effective envoy. Experts believe this is a result of Trump's agreeing to meet with Kim twice.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will speak over the phone soon to reaffirm the countries are on the same page. When asked Thursday why the Japanese government supports Trump's approach to the North, Kono said it is because "he is seeking the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization" of the rogue state.

"This is better than the U.S. and North Korea making a hasty compromise," an official close to Abe said. "North Korea faces extreme economic difficulties at home due to sanctions."

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