Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that during his trip to the United States next week ahead of the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit he will ask President Donald Trump to seek the elimination of all North Korean missiles that could reach Japan.
Getting rid of only intercontinental ballistic missiles, which North Korea says can reach the U.S. mainland, “has no meaning for Japan, so I want to tell the president that (North Korea) should also abandon short- and intermediate-range missiles that put Japan within range,” Abe said during a Diet committee session.
He also reiterated that he will ask Trump to raise the issue of North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese nationals with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“This is an important opportunity for me and President Trump to align our plans ahead of the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korean summits,” Abe told the Diet committee.
Japan is eager to make progress in the decadeslong abduction issue, possibly through a summit like that between North and South Korea scheduled for April 27, or the proposed first-ever summit between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea before the end of May.
However, in informal contact earlier this year, North Korea reiterated its position that abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s had been resolved, sources close to bilateral relations have said.
According to the sources, Pyongyang’s message about the abduction issue being settled was conveyed to Tokyo around March through an unofficial route, and not via the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, as in past contact between the Japanese and North Korean governments. Japan has no direct diplomatic relations with North Korea.
The Japanese government views that message as a possible attempt by Pyongyang to test Tokyo’s position of insisting on the abduction issue’s resolution as a precondition for improved relations, the sources said.
Tokyo appears to have been left behind in the recent flurry of diplomatic activity and easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with no meeting in sight between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim.
Japan has informed North Korea of its desire to hold a bilateral summit through several channels since February, as Tokyo views such a meeting as essential to resolving the abduction issue.
Abe, however, has told senior officials of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and others that Japan does not need to feel pressured to arrange a summit with Kim, the sources said.
On Monday, Abe said he will also talk to Trump about the need to maintain pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and missile development even as Pyongyang opens up to dialogue with other countries.
“I want to confirm that we must not give North Korea a reprieve from sanctions or other rewards for merely agreeing to hold dialogue,” he said.
Abe plans to visit the U.S. between April 17 and 20 and hold two days of talks with Trump. He said the visit will “clearly display both domestically and abroad that our countries have always been, and will always be, with each other 100 percent.”
Abe met March 30 with family members of the Japanese abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s. In a written proposal, they asked him to call on Trump to make concrete plans to bring the abductees back to Japan.
They also said Abe should not hold his own summit with Kim while the issue remains unresolved.
Japan officially lists 17 of its citizens as having been abducted by North Korea, and suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances.
Five of the 17 were returned home in 2002, but North Korea maintains eight have died and the other four were never in the country.