National

Obama meets abductees' kin, pledges to help solve issue

Kyodo

U.S. President Barack Obama vowed at a meeting Thursday with relatives of Japanese abducted by North Korea that the United States will work with Japan to address the long-running issue, one of the attendees said.

Sakie and Shigeru Yokota, the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was snatched at age 13, and Shigeo Iizuka, who heads a group of the abductees’ families, were among those who attended the meeting at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of the abduction issue, were also there.

The meeting was Obama’s first direct talks with the families. When Obama last visited Japan in 2009, he invited the Yokotas and other relatives of abductees to his speech in Tokyo. Megumi Yokota has become a symbol of the abduction issue.

Obama said that, as a parent of two daughters, the abductions are unacceptable and must be resolved in cooperation with the Japanese government, according to Shigeru Yokota.

During the brief session, Obama told the relatives that the United States will assist Japan in resolving the issue and coordinate with Tokyo, Furuya said.

The Yokotas told reporters they showed the president photos of their long-missing daughter, who North Korea says committed suicide in 1994, a claim disputed by Japan based on DNA tests conducted on what were purported to be her cremated remains.

A White House official said after the meeting that Obama “was moved by their tragic experiences and reaffirmed our commitment to work with Japan to address North Korea’s deplorable treatment of its own people and resolve the issue of abductees.”

At a joint news conference before the meeting, Abe said that during the summit, Obama expressed support for the government’s efforts to address the issue.

In late March, Iizuka met with Abe at the prime minister’s office and asked him to help bring about a meeting between the abductees’ relatives and Obama.

“I didn’t think the meeting would happen,” Iizuka said before meeting with Obama on Thursday. “I want to ask President Obama to apply international pressure so North Korea will take concrete steps (toward resolving the abduction issue).”

The last time a U.S. president met with relatives of the abductees was in April 2006, when President George W. Bush met a group including Sakie Yokota at the White House.

North Korea admitted in 2002 to having abducted 13 Japanese, allowing five to return and claiming the eight others had died.