• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to seek U.S. President Barack Obama’s “acceptance” at their summit next Thursday of Tokyo’s consultations with Pyongyang on the abduction issue, a government source said Friday.

The abductees in question were Japanese who were kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago. Five were allowed to return to Japan in 2002 and the rest were declared dead by the North.

On Abe’s ongoing efforts to lift the country’s self-imposed ban on collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an ally under armed attack, Abe hopes to brief Obama on the matter during the summit in Japan and obtain his clear support for the initiative, according to the source. Collective defense is banned under the government’s current interpretation of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

“I want to steadily communicate at home and abroad a Japan-U.S. alliance that plays a leadership role in and contributes to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region,” Abe told reporters in Osaka on Friday.

Japan and the United States are in agreement over their basic position on North Korea, which is to take a hard stance toward its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

But with Abe saying he is committed to resolving the abduction issue while in office, Tokyo has recently steered itself toward dialog with Pyongyang by resuming intergovernmental talks between the two countries last month.

Keiji Furuya, the Cabinet minister in charge of the issue, has suggested that Japan may take steps toward lifting its own sanctions against North Korea in stages if Pyongyang takes “forward-looking” steps on the abduction issue.

The focus of interest for the United States, however, remains preventing North Korea from taking measures that would be seen as provocative by other countries, namely a new nuclear test.

Washington is concerned that Japan’s emphasis on dialog with North Korea could unravel the close coordination being worked out among its allies to prevent Pyongyang from forging ahead with its nuclear and missile programs.

On Abe’s efforts to legitimize collective self-defense by simply reinterpreting the Constitution, Abe is expected to tell Obama that his advisory panel is studying the possibility, according to the source.

During talks with his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera in Tokyo earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed “support” for Abe’s reworking of Japan’s security and defense policies, but not specifically about the issue of collective self-defense, according to a Japanese official.

Observers say that in principle, the United States is for Japan being able to exercise the right to collective self-defense, but that Hagel’s nuanced stance reflects the U.S. willingness not to excessively unnerve China, which is wary of a stronger Japan-U.S. alliance.

Therefore, they say, one focus of the upcoming summit will be whether Obama will issue clear support for Japan’s efforts to lift its self-imposed ban on that right.

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