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Japan is confident some of the more than a dozen citizens abducted by North Korean agents over three decades ago are alive, and is counting on Kim Jong Un to return them, said the minister in charge of the issue.

“We are holding negotiations on the premise that the abductees are alive and that we are going to bring them all back,” Keiji Furuya, 61, said Wednesday in an interview at his Tokyo office.

Furuya said he expects North Korea to hand over in “late summer or early autumn” a report on the investigation into the fate of the abductees and other Japanese living in the isolated state.

“China and America are taking a tough attitude, so North Korea is really in trouble,” Furuya said. “North Korea is sending Japan a message that it really wants Japan’s support.”

The United States and South Korea were both briefed on Japan’s plans to engage North Korea on the abductees and supported the effort, he said.

North Korea, under Kim’s father Kim Jong Il, admitted in 2002 to abducting 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly to help teach Japanese to its spies. It returned five later that year, saying all the others were dead. Japan says at least 17 were taken. The number may be much higher.

Kim should not be blamed for the deeds of his father, Furuya said.

“Kim Jong Un was not involved at all” in the abductions, Furuya said. “By resolving the abduction problem at this point, it could be the start of North Korea restoring its pride. I’m hoping Kim Jong Un will have these feelings.”

Furuya said that Kim’s experience living outside of North Korea made him better suited to act on the issue. Kim “breathed the air of western society” as he lived in Switzerland when he was young. “If he simply follows the teachings of his father, he can never become greater than his father,” he said.

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