Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has conveyed his intention to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang's state-run media reported Monday, quoting a statement by the leader's sister who called on Tokyo to make a "decision" on improving bilateral ties.

Kim Yo Jong said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency that Kishida recently proposed an in-person summit to meet with her brother "as soon as possible" through "another channel," referring to one other than those that have been used for bilateral communication.

Kishida said in parliament on Monday that his government has lobbied for a possible summit meeting with the North Korean leader. He stressed the importance of summit talks to secure the return of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s.

Combined photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R, KCNA/Kyodo) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. (Kyodo)

Later in the day, Kishida told reporters at his office that he is aware of the report but that "nothing has been decided so far on whether a (Japan-North Korea) summit will be realized."

Kim Yo Jong, a senior official in North Korea's ruling Workers' Party of Korea, said in February a visit by Kishida to Pyongyang is possible if Tokyo does not make the issue of past abductions of Japanese nationals an obstacle between the two countries, according to KCNA.

In Monday's statement, she said the important thing in creating an opening for improved bilateral relations is "for Japan to make its political decision in actuality," KCNA said, urging Tokyo to change its stance on the abduction issue.

Pyongyang claims the issue has already been settled, but Tokyo, which officially lists a total of 17 Japanese nationals as abductees, rejects the assertion. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan's top government spokesman, reiterated Monday that the claim was "totally unacceptable."

Japan and North Korea have no official diplomatic ties. Hayashi told a press conference in Tokyo that Kishida has been calling for a dialogue with Kim Jong Un "through various routes."

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at the premier's office in Tokyo on March 25, 2024. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

But the spokesman declined to provide details, citing the possible negative impact on negotiations with North Korea going forward.

Kim Yo Jong said as long as Japan remains "engrossed in the abduction issue that has no further settlement," Kishida will face criticism that his proposal for summit talks with Kim Jong Un is just "a bid for popularity," according to KCNA.

Furthermore, Pyongyang will regard Tokyo as its "enemy, never a friend" if Japan "infringes upon the sovereignty" of North Korea and stands "hostile" to the neighboring country, she added, calling for "a political decision for strategic option conformed to its overall interests," the report said.

Some observers have interpreted North Korea's recent offering of an olive branch to Japan as a bid to obstruct trilateral security cooperation between Tokyo, Seoul and Washington. Pyongyang has conducted a series of missile launches in response to U.S.-South Korea joint military drills.

Kim's sister said that North Korea's strengthened self-defense capabilities will "never be a threat to the security of Japan," as long as Tokyo respects Pyongyang's sovereignty and security interests in a "fair and equal" way.

Pyongyang has indicated a willingness to improve bilateral ties, with Kim Jong Un sending a rare message of sympathy to Kishida in early January in the wake of a deadly earthquake that hit central Japan on New Year's Day.

File photo shows Kim Yo Jong, vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, attending a meeting in Pyongyang in August 2022. (KNS/Kyodo)

In 2002, five abductees were returned to Japan after then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with North Korea's leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang, in the first-ever summit between the two countries.

Koizumi also received North Korea's first formal apology for the abductions. Tokyo suspects Pyongyang's involvement in many more disappearances than the official figure of 17, and that abductees were kidnapped by the country to teach Japanese language and culture to its spies or to steal their identities so they could be used by agents for espionage.

In May last year, Kishida made a sudden commitment to establishing high-level bilateral negotiations to pave the way for an early summit, although he has not provided details on what kind of official talks he envisions.

Some critics have speculated that the move was aimed at bolstering his Cabinet's support rate, which has fallen to a record-low level.

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