Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe on Sunday urged North Korea to promise that the children of five Japanese abductees can come to Japan.

Abe said the promise should be a precondition for resuming the next bilateral normalization talks.

“I want (North Korea) to promise to return the children (to Japan) before deciding on the schedule of the negotiations,” Abe said on a Sunday television talk show.

The five abductees — two married couples and a woman married to an American — have North Korean-born children who remain in that country. The five have been in Japan since returning home in mid-October for the first time in 24 years.

North Korea has demanded the abductees’ immediate return, maintaining that Japan has broken its promise to return the five to North Korea within two weeks.

Pyongyang has warned that if Japan continues to reject the demand, it may indefinitely postpone bilateral consultations on security issues, including its nuclear weapons program.

Abe dismissed the warning. “The abductees are saying they want the North to give them back their children while remaining in Japan. The precondition North Korea speaks of does not stand,” he said.

According to Abe, the North has only the security consultations as a venue to explain its stance to the world. He urged the secretive country to pledge to abandon the development of nuclear weapons.

He also said Japan will continue its financial commitment to a project by the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, an international consortium, to build two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea.

“We haven’t thought of stopping the provision of the $1 billion Japan has committed to,” Abe said.

Abe’s comment follows the consortium’s decision last Thursday to freeze fuel-oil shipments to the country from December. The shipments were a key part of the 1994 agreement reached between Washington and Pyongyang.

According to the accord, North Korea is required to freeze and dismantle its plutonium-producing nuclear reactors in exchange for the two new reactors and a supply of fuel oil. The United States has paid for and shipped the fuel.

Although new U.S. shipments have been suspended, Abe ruled out the possibility of Japan’s shouldering the expenses for fuel oil supplied to North Korea.

Commenting on a Kyodo News report that a close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il informally told Japan in 1997 that Megumi Yokota, an abductee, was alive, Abe only said, “I know there was such a report, but I don’t know who reported it.”

Meanwhile, the government is now considering making mental health care part of its package of assistance for the five Japanese returnees from North Korea, Abe said on a TV news program Sunday.

“The abductees have been victims of crime,” Abe said. “We need to back them up.”

The package is expected to encompass a wide range of issues the returnees have faced and are likely to face, such as living expenses, schooling and jobs, Abe said.

The government plans to compile the package by the end of this week. Abe expressed his intention to have new legislation enacted to provide lump-sum allowances to the abductees and to deal with their pension issues.

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