SEOUL – Foreign Minister Taro Kono asked South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday to raise the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to be put on the agenda at an upcoming inter-Korea summit.
“We agreed that Japan and South Korea will continue to cooperate on the abduction issue,” Kono told reporters after his meeting with Moon in Seoul. But he refrained from revealing the president’s response to his request to raise the issue with Kim at the April 27 summit.
Moon appeared to frame the abduction issue as a bilateral matter between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
According to Moon’s office, the president suggested to Kono that Japan and South Korea “continue to cooperate for a resolution to the outstanding issues between Japan and North Korea, including the abduction issue, and for the improvement of Japan-North Korea relations.”
The request also appeared to bounce off South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, whom Kono met earlier in the day. South Korean government officials said she avoided giving him a clear answer, telling him that she does not know which topics will be on the table between Moon and Kim.
Kono said he agreed with Moon on the need to “maintain maximum pressure on North Korea to realize its complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization.”
With no plans for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to hold a summit with Kim, Japan is trying to put the issue of the abductions — as well as its other interests — on the agenda at the inter-Korean talks and a subsequent summit planned between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in the coming months.
Kono is on a two-day visit to Seoul. He arrived late Tuesday on his first visit to the country since becoming foreign minister in August.
Although Japan and South Korea have repeatedly affirmed their cooperation on North Korea, bilateral ties have been strained in recent months over historical and territorial matters. According to the officials, Kono asked Kang to put a stop to a plan by a group of South Korean lawmakers to make a visit next week to a pair of rocky outcroppings in the Sea of Japan held by South Korea but claimed by Japan.
The islets are known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.
He also repeated Japan’s call for South Korea to stick to a December 2015 bilateral agreement on the issue of “comfort women,” who were forced into Japanese wartime military brothels.
Moon’s administration has found fault with the way the deal was negotiated under his predecessor Park Geun-hye. Park was subsequently impeached over a corruption scandal and sentenced to 24 years in prison last week.