Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, speaks during a joint news conference with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

Japan's Abe Is Latest Leader Mulling Kim Summit, Report Says

(Bloomberg) -- The Japanese government is exploring the possibility of a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Japanese media reported.

Japan is considering a new way of dealing with Pyongyang after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision Thursday to meet Kim, Kyodo News said, citing unidentified government officials. The surprise move by Trump, which followed a similar agreement by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left Japan isolated in its hard-line stance against the regime.

The decision came hours after Abe met with Suh Hoon, a Moon envoy who met the North Korean leader last week, the report said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on the report Wednesday, saying instead that Japan was considering its approach to Pyongyang "from the perspective of what will be most effective."

If confirmed, the move would be a departure for Abe, who has so far advocated “maximum pressure” on the isolated regime. It comes as Abe contends with a domestic scandal over a land deal that is threatening his bid to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

“The biggest factor is probably the feeling of Japan suddenly being left out of North Korea developments,” said Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who worked on North Korean issues. “But it’s certainly possible it has occurred to the prime minister that this could change the public focus after multiple news cycles of scandal coverage.”

Following Abe’s meeting with Suh in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan, South Korea and the U.S. would cooperate to make the Moon-Kim and Trump-Kim summits happen.

The last time Japanese and North Korean leaders met was in 2004, when former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with Kim’s father in Pyongyang. Abe traveled to the North Korean capital with Koizumi as his chief cabinet secretary.

On his two trips to North Korea, Koizumi achieved the return of some Japanese citizens abducted by the regime, as well as some family members. The officials cited by Kyodo said Japan saw a fresh chance to make progress resolving the issue of the abductions that took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

Abe was previously trying to make headway with North Korea on the abductee issue, but talks broke down in 2015. His ruling Liberal Democratic Party will hold a meeting Wednesday to discuss the matter.

North Korea fired two missiles over Japan last year, and three intercontinental ballistic missiles on steep trajectories into the Sea of Japan. In September, Kim’s regime threatened to sink Japan “into the sea” with a nuclear strike and turn the U.S. into “ashes and darkness.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.