Visiting U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday met with family members of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents and pledged to work together with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to bring them back to Japan.
Trump and his wife, Melania, accompanied by Abe and his wife, Akie, met 14 family members of those kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s, at the State Guest House in Tokyo’s Akasaka district.
During the 35-minute meeting, the relatives talked about their loved ones with Trump and his wife.
Trump listened intently and shook hands with all of the family members, according to Hitomi Soga, a former abductee who attended the meeting. She returned to Japan in 2002.
Later in the day, Trump told reporters that he had heard “very, very sad” stories about the victims.
“We will work with the prime minister, we will try to get them back” to Japan, Trump said.
Among the family members were Sakie Yokota, the mother of Megumi Yokota who was abducted in 1977 from a coastal town in Niigata Prefecture. Her daughter, then 13, was reportedly forced to work as a Japanese-language tutor in Pyongyang.
Yokota said that during the meeting she thanked Trump for mentioning her daughter in a speech he delivered at a general assembly meeting of the United Nations in New York, where he condemned Pyongyang.
“I thanked him for making clear at the United Nations such inhuman acts were conducted (by Pyongyang),” Yokota told a news conference later the same day.
Tokyo apparently arranged Monday’s meeting because Abe has labeled the abduction issue as one of his administration’s top priority issues. Bizarre and tragic stories about the abductees have drawn much attention and sympathy from the Japanese public. In 2006 Abe won his first prime ministership after gaining popularity among voters through his tough diplomatic stance against Pyongyang over the abduction issue.
“I, together with world leaders, would like to make my utmost efforts” to solve the abduction issue, Abe told reporters after Monday’s meeting.
Tokyo has claimed at least 17 Japanese were abducted by North Korean agents, five of which returned home in 2002.
But since 2002 little progress has been made, despite diplomatic efforts by Japan to repatriate the remaining abductees. Pyongyang has claimed the rest all either died in the North or never entered the country.