Japan is gearing up to resume bilateral talks with North Korea in the hope of making progress on the abduction issue and removing a thorn in relations between the two countries.

Tokyo said it was considering restarting talks, which have stalled since December, following an unannounced visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s top aide to Pyongyang, The Asahi Shimbun reports.

Isao Iijima’s visit raised speculation that Tokyo may be reengaging with Pyongyang in a bid to resolve the long-standing issue, a move that has taken aback South Korea and the United States at a time when Japan’s allies were looking to isolate the North as a bargaining tool for denuclearization.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said talks would be conducted through the Foreign Ministry and would cover a reinvestigation into the fate of Japanese national abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, reports the Japan Times.

Suga also said Abe had pledged to resolve the abduction issue during his term as prime minister and “will seek every possibility” in breaking the gridlock.