In his address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe eased his hard-line stance against North Korea, saying he is ready and willing to meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, to bring an end to decades of mutual distrust and make “a new start.”

Political analysts in Japan say Abe’s comments suggest that there may well have been back-channel negotiations underway to organize a meeting between the leaders.

In contrast to his speech at the same forum a year ago — when he warned that the window for diplomacy with Pyongyang was closing — Abe struck a more conciliatory tone, saying he had been watching the debate over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with “the greatest interest.”

But he did reiterate Tokyo’s position that normalizing diplomatic relations between the nations cannot proceed unless the question of the North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is resolved. Another major sticking point that needs to be resolved is the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

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