Japan is "paying attention" to remarks by the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un suggesting a visit to Pyongyang by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida could be possible, the top government spokesman said Friday.

At a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi declined to elaborate on Kim Yo Jong's statement, which was carried by North Korea's state-run media on Thursday, citing the possible negative impact on negotiations regarding the past abductions of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang.

In the statement, Kim said a visit could happen if Tokyo does not make the issue of the abductions an obstacle between the two countries, describing it as "settled." Hayashi said Japan will continue trying to resolve the matter with North Korea.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi holds a press conference in Tokyo on Feb. 16, 2024. (Kyodo)

Hayashi, who doubles as minister in charge of the abduction issue, said her assertion regarding the abductions was "totally unacceptable," adding that Japan will also continue to make efforts to solve other problems involving North Korea, such as its nuclear and missile development programs.

Takuya Yokota, the head of a group representing the families of Japanese abductees, also said Kim's stance that the abduction issue is settled "cannot be accepted at all."

Takuya Yokota speaks during a rally staged by their relatives and supporters in Tokyo on Nov. 26, 2023. (Kyodo)

But he said in a statement he would "welcome" the sister's reference to Kishida's possible visit to Pyongyang if it comes as a part of backdoor negotiations between Japan and North Korean governments.

"I hope the Japanese government will continue negotiations in a resolute manner, without lowering the level of its demand urging North Korea to return home all abductees at one time," said Yokota, a younger brother of Megumi, who was abducted at age 13 in 1977.

In May 2023, Kishida made a sudden commitment to establish high-level negotiations between Japan and North Korea to pave the way for an early summit with Kim Jong Un, although he has not provided details on what kind of official talks he envisions.

North Korea, meanwhile, has used antagonistic rhetoric toward Japan, demanding that Tokyo pay post-World War II compensation. Japan colonized Korea from 1910 through the end of the war in 1945.

But Kim Jong Un sent a message of sympathy to Kishida in early January over a deadly earthquake that hit central Japan on New Year's Day, according to North Korean state media. It is rare for a Japanese prime minister to receive a message from a North Korean leader.

In 2002, Junichiro Koizumi became the first Japanese prime minister to make a trip to Pyongyang, leading to the return of five abductees. He revisited North Korea in 2004.

Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic relations, but Koizumi signed the historic Pyongyang Declaration with the late leader Kim Jong Il, father of Kim Jong Un, on Sept. 17, 2002.

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