• Kyodo

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has expressed interest in seeing progress on the long-standing issue of 10 Japanese that Tokyo believes were abducted by Pyongyang agents in the 1970s and 1980s, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

Later in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, with whom the official was traveling, said she emphasized to Kim the importance of resolving the issue.

Albright made the statement during a news conference in Seoul after meeting South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Lee Joung Binn and Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono in which she briefed the two on the results of her historic trip to North Korea.

“I made it very clear . . . the importance of the (abduction) issue not only to Japan but to us,” she said. “I did raise it a number of times,” she said, referring to her talks Monday and Tuesday with Kim in Pyongyang.

She didn’t say how Kim responded.

Albright said her government will hold further discussions with Japan and South Korea to settle the abduction issue.

The senior U.S. official, who asked not to be named, told reporters en route from Pyongyang to Seoul that Kim “would like to have things proceed well.”

The official took part in the meetings with Kim and other North Korean top officials in Pyongyang.

The official said, however, that Kim “views things somewhat differently” from the Japanese government. North Korea calls the group “missing persons.”

“Chairman (Kim) listened very attentively” to Albright’s comments on the matter, the official said.

Albright told Kim that the U.S. has a “strong interest” in seeing a “productive” outcome from the third round of normalization talks Monday and Tuesday in Beijing.

She said she wants “the North to find some ways to address” the missing persons issue, according to the U.S. official.

Meanwhile, Kono expressed hope Wednesday that Albright’s meeting with Kim will help achieve progress in the normalization talks.

“I expect the U.S.-North Korea talks will certainly have a beneficial influence on the Japan-North Korea normalization talks,” Kono told a press conference in Seoul.

He explained that Albright’s report on her experiences in Pyongyang and discussions held Wednesday in Seoul by Kono, Albright and Lee will help Japan persevere in its negotiations with the North.

But Kono did not elaborate, saying only the Japanese government “must think about how to proceed in the negotiations before the talks begin.”

Familes express hope

The families of Japanese nationals allegedly abducted by North Korea restated their hopes Wednesday that Tokyo and Pyongyang will strive to resolve the lingering issue as soon as possible.

The call follows reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that he is considering looking into the matter.

Hidekazu Hasuike, the 73-year-old father of Kaoru Hasuike, who went missing in July 1978 from the city of Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, said he is desperate to know whether his son is safe.

Hasuike, who lives in the prefecture, said that every family with a missing child wants the child to return, whatever the cost. He added that Tokyo now has a better chance of resolving the matter. with the North.

The father of Megumi Yokota, who went missing in Niigata in November 1977 aged 13, said he was pleased that the United States has raised the issue directly with North Korea, as he has doubts over the determination of Tokyo’s efforts on the matter.

Shigeru Yokota, a 67-year-old resident of Kawasaki, said he hopes Albright’s trip will help Japan make progress in solving the issue when Japan and North Korea begin a new round of normalization talks from Monday in Beijing.

Tamotsu Chimura, 73, still hopes his son, Yasushi, will return in the future. He disappeared in the city of Obama, Fukui Prefecture.

“I want my son back as soon as possible. If (North Korea) returns my son, I’ll have no complaints as long as I get him back,” he said.

Shuichi Ichikawa went missing from the coast of Kagoshima Prefecture in August 1978. His 55-year-old brother, Kenichi, now hopes Japan and the North will solve the issue as soon as possible so he can get Shuichi back.

Japan claims at least 10 Japanese were abducted by the North in seven cases in the 1970s and 1980s. Pyongyang denies the allegations but has promised to search for them as “missing persons.”

The problem remains a major obstacle to normalizing bilateral ties.

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