North Korea and Japan held working-level meetings multiple times last month over Pyongyang's past abductions of Japanese nationals, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday citing informed sources, although Tokyo swiftly denied the claim.
The report by Dong-A Ilbo said the officials met at least twice in third countries such as China and Singapore. While North Korea maintained that it considers the matter resolved, the report said that if talks continue, Pyongyang and Tokyo could hold higher-level meetings in the future.
Japan notified the United States of the working-level meetings in advance, according to the report.
The news about the meetings came as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged in late May to set up high-level bilateral negotiations and arrange a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, prompting Pyongyang's vice foreign minister to say that there is "no reason" for the two countries "not to meet."
In Tokyo, Japan's top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno denied the report's assertions, saying at a news conference, "There are no such facts."
Matsuno, the chief Cabinet secretary, refrained from commenting on whether Japan and North Korea have been engaged in talks, citing the possible negative impact doing so could have on future negotiations related to the abduction issue.
Since five abductees were brought back to Japan in 2002, Tokyo has called for the return of 12 others officially recognized as having been abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
The report also said North Korea seems to have judged that having a dialogue with Tokyo could drive a wedge between South Korea, Japan and the United States, citing the sources.
Koo Byoung Sam, a spokesman of South Korea's Unification Ministry, said at a regular briefing on Monday that there is nothing to confirm from the South Korean side regarding the meetings.