Japan has requested that U.S. President Barack Obama meet with relatives of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents when he visits in late April, according to Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of the abduction issue.
“We have informed Mr. (Robert) King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, of a request (for a meeting) from the families,” Furuya said Friday at a press conference.
The relatives include the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted in 1977 at age 13. Japan wants the United States to get deeply involved in efforts to resolve the long-standing issue.
Japan officially lists 17 people as abduction victims from the 1970s and 1980s, but suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances as well.
Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002.
According to a diplomatic source, Obama will start his visit to Japan on April 23, the day before his summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The government is arranging for Abe to host a dinner on the night Obama arrives, the source said.
At a Cabinet meeting on April 4, the government decided to invite Obama to Japan from April 24 to 25 as a state guest. Japan has called for Obama to stay at least two nights.
Abe to shun Yasukuni
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will probably not visit a war-linked shrine during its spring festival in late April, sources said Thursday, apparently to make the upcoming Japan-U.S. summit a success and avoid aggravating neighboring parts of Asia again.
Instead of visiting Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo during its annual spring festival from April 21 through 23, Abe is expected to make a “masakaki” tree offering as he did last spring, the sources said.
Abe visited the controversial shrine on Dec. 26, the first anniversary of his taking office, drawing the ire of Beijing and Seoul, which see the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past imperialism. In unusually strong language, Tokyo’s closet ally, Washington, said it was “disappointed” by the visit.
Making a masakaki offering would signify Abe is trying not to worsen Tokyo’s relations with Beijing and Seoul further, while taking heed of his conservative support base, which wants him to visit the shrine, the sources said.
The annual festival comes just before Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama are scheduled to hold summit talks in Tokyo on April 24, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and Japan-U.S. security alliance likely on the agenda. After his state visit to Japan, Obama will travel to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.