May 8, 2018 / 3:07 AM / 12 days ago

Japan and North Korea should talk, South Korea's Moon says

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and North Korea should begin talks to normalise relations between the two countries and contribute to peace and stability in the region, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told a Japanese newspaper on Tuesday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks on the phone to Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, May 4, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS

“In particular, I think dialogue between Japan and North Korea should be resumed,” Moon said in the interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun.

“If Japan-North Korea relations are normalised, that would greatly contribute to peace and security in Northeast Asia beyond the Korean peninsula,” he said in written answers to questions submitted by the newspaper.

At Moon’s summit last month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, both sides agreed to work towards denuclearisation. Kim said during that meeting he was “ready to have a dialogue with Japan anytime”, Moon told the newspaper.

Tokyo has called Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programmes the toughest security threat facing Japan since World War Two.

“There is no change to our stance that we aim to resolve the abduction issue and end North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes before we attempt to normalise diplomatic relations with Pyongyang,” an official at Japan’s foreign ministry said.

Moon’s interview was conducted ahead of a summit on Wednesday between Moon, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Tokyo.

North Korea was expected to be high on the agenda but a Chinese diplomat said last week the talks were about regional cooperation and not focused on the Korean peninsula.

Nevertheless, months of frosty relations between Beijing and Pyongyang appear to have thawed since Kim’s secretive visit to Beijing in March, where he met Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Analysts said Kim’s meeting with Xi strengthened North Korea’s negotiating position by aligning the two nations ahead of Kim’s summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in the coming weeks.

A high-ranking North Korean official flew to the Chinese city of Dalian on Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said on Tuesday, citing multiple anonymous sources. The report did not identify the official.

In the interview, Moon said Kim’s desire for “complete denuclearisation” laid the groundwork for the future summit between the United States and North Korea, although it remained to be seen if concrete steps were agreed at the talks.

Trump has said he will maintain sanctions and pressure on the North and “not repeat the mistakes of past administrations”, and added that his tough stance had led to the breakthrough.

Moon said Kim was “a very open and practical person” and both leaders had a mutual goal for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

“From now on, based on our deep mutual trust, we’ll make bold steps toward peace and prosperity, and unification,” Moon said.

Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL; Editing by Darren Schuettler

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