Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, a close aide to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, called on North Korea on Thursday to move to realize an early summit to resolve the issue of the past abduction of Japanese nationals.
Matsuno, the top government spokesman who has doubled as minister in charge of the abduction issue since October 2021, also said at an online U.N. symposium on the subject that Kishida is willing to talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "without conditions."
His speech came a day after a researcher at an institute at the North Korean Foreign Ministry, through state-run media, slammed the symposium co-sponsored by Japan, South Korea, the United States, Australia and the European Union, saying the abduction issue has been "settled."
Matsuno said, "With the families of the victims aging, the abduction issue is a human rights problem with time constraints," adding Japan has garnered international support toward the resolution of the matter. Tokyo and Pyongyang have no diplomatic relations.
Emphasizing that Kishida has expressed eagerness to begin negotiations between the two nations to pave the way for a summit, Matsuno said Japan will "continue to convey the prime minister's determination" to Kim until North Korea takes action.
Building "fruitful" bilateral relations "would contribute greatly to regional peace and stability" but "the longer the current situation drags on, the more challenging it becomes for Japan and North Korea to establish new ties," Matsuno said.
"We must not waste even a single moment and now is the time to boldly change the status quo," he added.
After five abductees were brought back to Japan in 2002, Tokyo has sought the return of 12 others whom it has officially recognized as having been abducted by North Korea. It also suspects Pyongyang's engagement in the disappearances of other Japanese citizens.
In late May, Kishida pledged to set up senior-level negotiations between Tokyo and Pyongyang to arrange a summit with Kim, prodding North Korea's vice foreign minister to say via official media that there is "no reason" for the two countries "not to meet."
But the researcher at the North Korean Foreign Ministry's Institute for Japan Studies, who criticized the symposium, was quoted Wednesday by the Korean Central News Agency as saying the abduction issue "has been completely, finally and irreversibly settled."
The U.N. symposium was held online for the third straight year against a backdrop of the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.