Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed Sunday to "step up efforts to realize an early summit meeting" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and resolve the decades-long issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang.

Kishida renewed his pledge at a citizens gathering in Tokyo to bring home Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

"We are making approaches through various channels," Kishida said, adding "It is extremely important that I myself take the initiative in building a relationship between the leaders."

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (2nd from L) attends a citizens gathering in Tokyo calling for the repatriation of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents on Nov. 26, 2023. (Kyodo)

He has previously said he would 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 as little progress has been made over the long-standing issue since 2002.

Japanese officials engaged in several informal contacts with the North Korean side earlier in the year.

In September 2002, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang and signed the historic Pyongyang Declaration with Kim's father Kim Jong Il for an early normalization of relations.

North Korea made its first formal apology for the abductions and five abductees were brought back to Japan the following month.

"We cannot say the issue is solved until all the abductees return home while their aging parents are still alive," Takuya Yokota, the head of a group representing the families of Japanese abductees, said at the gathering of some 800 participants.

Yokota is a younger brother of Megumi, who was abducted at age 13 in 1977 and became a symbol of the movement seeking their rescue.

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.

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