OSAKA — November’s U.S. presidential election will be watched with great interest and concern by relatives and other supporters of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea, who wonder what implications a Democratic victory might have for their cause.
“We don’t believe that there would be a basic change in official American assistance of the Japanese abductees under (John) Kerry, as America has already plainly said this is a human rights problem,” said Shigeru Yokota, chairman of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea.
“But there are differences in the way that Kerry would deal with North Korea if he were elected president, and we don’t know what those differences would mean in terms of strong American pressure on North Korea over the abduction issue.”
North Korea has already publicly stated that it would welcome Kerry as president.
This statement, as well as uncertainty over Kerry’s North Korea policy, has made Yokota and other relatives anxious that the issue be resolved before the election.
“There has been no progress in resolving the abduction issue since the (Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi-Kim (Jong Il) summit (of September 2002)” Yokota said.
“North Korea may feel it can just stall and delay discussing the issue until after the presidential election, which is why the Japanese government has to work harder to get the issue resolved before then.”
Many of Kerry’s foreign policy advisers are those who advised former President Bill Clinton — a factor that also worries supporters of the abductees.
“Kerry has said he’d have direct discussions with North Korea. This makes me wonder if he and his advisers really understand North Korea. America’s policy vis a vis North Korea could return to the ineffective diplomacy we saw 10 years ago under Clinton,” said Kazuhiro Araki, who represents the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea and is a longtime supporter of those who believe their missing relatives were kidnapped by the North.
Over the past three years, the families and their supporters have received direct support and sympathy from senior members of the administration of President George W. Bush, especially from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, with whom they have met on several occasions.
Republican leaders in both houses of Congress have also met with Yokota and other family members in Tokyo and Washington D.C., and have pledged their support.
But Yokota admits that, while his group has good contacts within the Bush administration, it does not have links to anybody within the Kerry campaign.
“We know we need to build those links,” he said. Kerry, who has all but locked up the Democratic Party nomination, has either been ahead of or in a tie with Bush in recent American polls.