Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions from reporters at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on June 12 after talking with U.S. President Donald Trump by phone. (Takeshi Tokitsu)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed a willingness June 12 to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, following in the footsteps of the U.S.-North Korea summit that day, to bring closure to the thorny issue of Japanese citizens abducted decades ago.

“I’m determined that Japan has to solve the issue by talking directly with North Korea,” Abe said in Tokyo after getting a briefing from President Donald Trump by phone after the U.S. leader's summit talks in Singapore with Kim.

Abe spoke to reporters late June 12 about the results of the U.S.-North Korea summit while Trump was still giving a news conference in Singapore to explain the outcome of the historic meeting.

“I support (the joint statement) as the first step toward a comprehensive resolution of issues involving North Korea,” Abe said at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo.

That evening, Abe talked with Trump by phone for about 30 minutes. The talks also covered steps to be taken from now on.

The joint statement did not refer to a deadline for the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, which Japan had regarded as essential, or to the phrase of “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.”

Japanese government officials handling North Korea policy were notably down in the dumps, fearing that North Korea’s denuclearization will have no substance.

The Japanese government dispatched Shotaro Yachi, head of the secretariat for the National Security Council, and Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, to Singapore.

The two men were deeply involved in preliminary talks between the United States and North Korea in the hope that Trump would not readily conclude an agreement with Kim.

In this aspect, they failed.

“As the meeting was a diplomatic negotiation, there was a gap between what we hoped for and what was achieved,” Kanasugi told reporters late June 12.

“But (the statement) was a desirable step in the right direction,” he added.

With regard to the abduction issue, it remains unclear how Kim reacted when Trump raised the matter. Abe refused to divulge details of the exchange between Trump and Kim on the issue even after he talked with Trump by phone.

Instead, Abe said he was determined to hold direct talks with Kim to resolve the issue.

“The next step is for us to hold direct talks (with North Korea),” said a high-ranking official of the prime minister's office.