The families of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents petitioned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday to elicit U.S. President Donald Trump’s decisive commitment to achieving the “immediate and comprehensive” return of abductees during their expected summit next month, calling Pyongyang’s upcoming dialogue with world leaders a “now or never” chance to repatriate their loved ones.
Upon meeting Abe, the families urged the leader to arrange with Trump “concrete steps” toward recovering the abductees.
“Now is our last chance. There won’t be another one like this. If we fail this time around, things will be out of control,” Shigeo Iizuka, head of a group representing the abductees’ families, told Abe at the start of their meeting.
In response, Abe reasserted his commitment to making Trump understand Japan’s position.
With North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expected to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in for denuclearization talks on April 27 and Trump for the same reason by the end of May, Abe said Japan “cannot let the abduction issue — which is most important to us — be put on the back burner.”
“My mission will never end until you can all reunite with your families and hug them,” Abe said.
After meeting the prime minister, Iizuka’s son Koichiro told a news conference that Abe should be uncompromising about Tokyo’s request to the U.S. “What we demand is the immediate and comprehensive return of abductees,” Koichiro said.
“As we told the prime minister today, if Tokyo settles for telling Washington we’re merely ‘seeking to have the abduction issue resolved’ or something, all we’ll get from the North as a result will be a half-hearted promise they will re-investigate the matter or issue some kind of report, only to see it broken again.”
Japan’s abduction dispute with Pyongyang saw a breakthrough in 2002 when five of those whisked away by North Korean agents in 1970s and 80s were repatriated to Japan as a result of a first-ever summit between the two nations under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration. But momentum has since declined, with Pyongyang, for example, reneging on its 2014 agreement with Japan in Stockholm to again probe the abduction issue.
Talk of a landmark Abe-Kim meeting has been rife these days as reports emerged that Tokyo had conveyed its willingness to meet Kim through diplomatic channels. In its exclusive report Thursday, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, for one, quoted an unnamed North Korean source as saying the leadership of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party has recently informed senior party officials through briefing papers that a “Japan-North Korea summit would possibly take place in early June.”
The families, however, “repeatedly urged the prime minister to refrain” from holding talks with Kim at the moment, according to Tsutomu Nishioka, chairman of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea. Only after North Korea succumbs to the maximum pressure campaign and seeks dialogue with Abe with the promise of returning the remaining abductees should Japan finally consider a summit with Kim, Nishioka said.
“If we show signs that being unable to meet Kim will somehow inconvenience us, the North will have the upper hand and agree to meet us on its own terms,” he said. “Demanding a summit meeting for the sake of a summit meeting will only benefit them.”
Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was kidnapped by North Korean agents at the age of 13, echoed Iizuka’s message that the families are at a critical crossroads in their decades-long quest to retrieve the abductees.
“So many things happened over the years, but things are vastly different this time around in that the leader of North Korea has actually sought out dialogue with the U.S. at his own initiative. This is a huge chance,” Yokota told the news conference, although adding she is observing recent developments with a degree of skepticism because “we have been betrayed a lot.”