Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Saturday he wants to establish senior-level negotiations between Japan and North Korea in a bid to arrange a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an early date on the return of Japanese abductees.

In his remarks to a gathering in Tokyo seeking the return of Japanese nationals abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s, Kishida reiterated that he is committed to realizing unconditional talks with Kim "at the earliest opportunity."

His government will aim to arrange negotiations with Pyongyang "at a high level under my direct control" to pave the way for talks with the North Korean leader, Kishida added.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a rally staged by the relatives of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, and their supporters in Tokyo on May 27, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The Japanese government has officially identified 17 of its nationals as having been abducted by North Korea, and it suspects Pyongyang's involvement in many other disappearances. Although five people were returned in 2002, the other 12 remain unaccounted for.

Kishida also told the gathering that establishing productive relations with Pyongyang would "be to the benefit of both sides, and be an enormous contribution to regional stability and peace."

A government source said the prime minister has shown that "he is ready to speak with North Korea."

With many families of those missing now aging, the issue has become increasingly urgent under the premiership of Kishida, who became prime minister in 2021.

In a policy shift signaling an increased willingness to compromise to achieve their aims, the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea said in February it would not oppose humanitarian aid to the country if it meant the abductees would be returned.

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