July 3 (UPI) -- Japan and North Korea could soon lock horns on the issue of abducted Japanese nationals, after years of calls for their release.
Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported Tuesday Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party, had told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during their New York meeting in May the issue of kidnapped Japanese "is already resolved," and the topic was not up for discussion.
The paper was quoting a source familiar with U.S.-North Korea matters who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Kim appeared to be emphasizing the North Korean position that all abductees were returned to Japan and all other possible measures were taken, including an apology, the source said.
After North Korea allowed five Japanese abductees to return, it has maintained eight others died and another four were never taken to North Korea.
At least a dozen abductees are still officially recognized by Tokyo.
Japan has refused to believe North Korea's claims that it cannot locate the whereabouts of some of the abductees on Tokyo's list, and negotiations have veered off course after some progress was made until 2014, when Pyongyang reneged on its promise to provide a preliminary report on the abductees.
But the newspaper also reported the statement from the North Korean official could be preparing for negotiations with Japan, and building an advantageous position for Pyongyang ahead of a possible summit.
Katsuyuki Kawai, special adviser for foreign affairs to the president of Japan's ruling party, said in Washington North Korean statements regarding the abduction issue as "resolved," is actually progress, NHK reported Tuesday.
Kawai also said during his visit to the United States if North Korea does not make progress on the kidnappings Japan will stick to its principle of sanctions and pressure, according to the report.