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Japan's Suga makes fresh pitch for meeting with Kim Jong Un

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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared his willingness to meet North Korea's Kim Jong-Un without preconditions, affirming the policy of his predecessor in his debut speech to the United Nations.

[TOKYO] Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared his willingness to meet North Korea's Kim Jong-Un without preconditions, affirming the policy of his predecessor in his debut speech to the United Nations.

Japan would seek to normalise ties with North Korea by resolving nuclear weapons and missile issues, as well as the past abductions of Japanese citizens, Mr Suga told the General Assembly, in remarks that local media said had been recorded almost a week earlier.

"Establishing a constructive relationship between Japan and North Korea will not only serve the interests of both sides, but will also greatly contribute to regional peace and stability," Mr Suga said.

Mr Suga also vowed that Tokyo would host the Summer Olympics next year as proof that humankind had defeated the virus pandemic.

While the speech was Mr Suga's first opportunity to lay out a vision for Japan's role in the world after his election as prime minister on Sept. 16, his remarks emphasised continuity. Mr Suga - a 71-year-old strawberry farmer's son - has less diplomatic experience than his globe-trotting former boss Shinzo Abe, who also publicly offered to meet Mr Kim, with little success.

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Mr Suga has previously said that Japan's alliance with the US would remain the cornerstone of the country's foreign policy, even as President Donald Trump's administration clashes with China over trade and security. Some in Mr Suga's own party are also calling for a harder line with the Chinese government over territorial disputes and the clampdown on Hong Kong.

That presents Mr Suga with a problem. Mr Abe mended relations with China, his country's biggest trade partner, only to see his plans to celebrate the improvement with a state visit by President Xi Jinping derailed by the coronavirus.

On Thursday, Suga spoke to South Korean President Moon Jae-In, breaking a nine-month silence between the two countries' leaders amid simmering tension over the legacy of Japan's colonial rule of Korea. Mr Suga told Mr Moon that the relationship was in a difficult state, but that it couldn't be neglected and that the two nations should work together on North Korea.

In his UN speech, Mr Suga vowed to "leave no one behind" in tackling the coronavirus, including by offering loans to developing countries whose economies have been hard hit.

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