Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who built his career campaigning against North Korea, said on Friday the US should talk directly to Pyongyang if it helps solve the current crisis.
North Korea this week stormed out of six-nation disarmament talks and vowed to restart its nuclear program to protest a UN statement condemning it for test-firing a rocket over Japan.
The communist state has long sought bilateral talks with the US, which has held direct talks with Pyongyang but insisted that any deals come through the six-way talks launched in 2003.
The talks bring onboard Japan and South Korea — close US allies — along with China and Russia, seen as having some influence over the North.
“Japan is not opposed to the idea of direct talks between the United States and North Korea,” Abe told the Brookings Institution think tank on a visit to Washington, where he met US Vice President Joe Biden.
The conservative former prime minister said Japan’s priority was to end North Korea’s nuclear program and to resolve a row over Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s to train the regime’s spies.
“If there is anything that can contribute to the resolution of these issues, then we would be in favor of talks between North Korea and the United States,” Abe said.
But he warned that “the North Koreans like to play games.”
“The North Koreans may promise to talk to the United States and then later say, ‘Well, we’re not going to,’ and thereby try to get some reward,” Abe said.
Abe, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and remains a lawmaker, rose to political prominence as an advocate for abductees’ families.
North Korea returned five kidnap victims in 2002 and says the rest are dead; Japan believes at least 12 more are alive.
Abe said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il must repatriate all abductees.
“To Kim Jong-il, I say this — Japan will simply never give in. Don’t play games with us as there is no room for compromise,” Abe said.