shinzo abe and kim jong-un
© Reuters / Francois Lenoir (L) ; Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov (R)
There were signs of renewed diplomacy between Japan and North Korea on Friday, after Japanese PM Shinzo Abe was reported suggesting that a meeting with Kim Jong-un without any "preconditions" was a possibility.

The resolution of the issue of Japanese citizens "abducted" by Pyongyang has long been held up by Tokyo as a precursor to any potential thaw in relations between the two powers. However, a potential policy shift was indicated by Abe during an interview with the Sankei newspaper, where he said the only way to "break the current mutual distrust" was for both leaders to meet.

"That's why I would like to meet him without setting preconditions and hold frank discussions. I hope he's a leader who can determine flexibly and strategically what is best for his country," he told the paper.

The last time leaders from both countries met was in 2004, when Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, met Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. They were unable to make any headway on the issue of abductees, resulting in a diplomatic impasse that has lasted to this day.

However, a flurry of summits between the current North Korean leader and major powers in the last year has left Abe as the only regional player to have not sat down with him. So far, Kim has held three summits with his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, and last month he sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss bilateral trade and denuclearization.

The most headline-grabbing powwow has been with US President Donald Trump. After a historic inaugural meeting in Singapore last June, both parties expressed optimism after agreeing to back complete nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula. However, a "failed"second summit in Hanoi in February saw Kim walk away from the table early due to disagreements over the lifting of sanctions. North Korean officials later blasted Washington by claiming Trump's team used a "gangster-like approach" in negotiations.