The United States warned Japan in March that Washington could no longer back Tokyo on the issue of North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese unless then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reversed his contentious claim that there was no proof that the Imperial forces forced women and girls into sexual slavery during the war, sources revealed Thursday.
The warning, delivered by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer to a senior government official, prompted Abe to change his stance and announce that he stands by Japan’s 1993 official statement of apology to the “comfort women,” as they are euphemistically known, the sources said.
The 1993 statement, issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, acknowledges and apologizes for the Imperial forces’ involvement in forcing women and girls to work in frontline brothels in Japanese-occupied areas in the 1930s and 1940s.
Abe sparked an international outcry when he told a Diet committee on March 5 that there was no proof that the Japanese military was directly involved in forcing females across Asia into sexual servitude during the war.
Schieffer’s warning signaled that Japan-U.S. relations had reached a critical stage. Abe’s remark came while the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee was considering passing a resolution since the beginning of the year urging Japan’s prime minister to offer an official apology to the comfort women.
Worried by potentially negative developments from Abe’s remark, Schieffer met the senior Japanese official and said the U.S. would no longer be able to support Japan on the abduction issue if the current situation were to continue, according to the sources.
Japan is demanding that North Korea reopen or newly investigate 12 of the 17 abductees on Japan’s official list — all except the five who returned to Japan in 2002. North Korea, however, has repeatedly said that it considers the cases closed and that no other abductees remain alive.
Following Schieffer’s warning, Abe, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, then Foreign Minister Taro Aso and other senior administration officials discussed how the government should respond, the sources said.
Abe accepted Aso’s proposal to back away from his earlier remark, given the importance of Japan-U.S. relations, they said.
During telephone talks with President George W. Bush on April 3, Abe said Japan will keep its official position on the comfort women based on the 1993 statement.