Aug. 3 (UPI) — Speculation is rising in Japan that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may visit North Korea in September, following an interview during which he expressed interest in undertaking the “political adventure of a lifetime.”
Abe, 62, is dealing with a rapid decline in his popularity in recent months, owing to a number of school-related scandals involving a friend and a grant of government-owned land.
During a meeting with well-known local journalist Soichiro Tahara on Friday, Abe said he ought to take on a “political adventure,” according to Japanese press reports.
Political pundits have taken the statement to mean Abe would be willing to travel to Pyongyang and meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has been widely condemned for carrying on with missile provocations.
Japanese television networks also have been adding to speculation Abe is not ruling out face-to-face talks with the North Korean leadership.
On Thursday, Abe reshuffled his cabinet in response to his decline in the polls and a 20 percent approval rating.
An Abe North Korea visit is not a far-reaching possibility.
A cabinet reshuffle may not be enough to bring an end to the prime minister’s political crisis. North Korea’s threats, including its midrange ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan, have become a top priority for national security, South Korean news service Newsis reported.
There is also wide-ranging speculation over the topics discussed between Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump during their recent 52-minute phone conversation, following Pyongyang’s second test of the Hwasong-14, which analysts say is North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missile.
North Korea’s launches of other missiles have prompted Japan to stage several evacuation drills in major population centers, an unprecedented move for the world’s third-largest economy.
Japan has also been pressing Pyongyang to address the issue of Japanese abductees, who were taken to North Korea decades ago.
North Korea has stated it has repatriated all known abductees but Tokyo is seeking the release of missing Japanese nationals.