Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday stressed his resolve to advance the long-stalled abduction issue a day after Pyongyang announced it would freeze nuclear weapons testing and scrap its test site.
“It is extremely important to make progress on the abduction issue more than anything,” Abe said at a meeting in Tokyo with families of the kidnapped victims.
Abe met with Shigeo Iizuka, head of a group representing abductees’ families, and Sakie Yokota, the mother of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted in 1977 at age 13, among others.
Abe said he “welcomes the positive moves of North Korea” but maintained his government’s stance of maintaining sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.
“Japan has absolutely no intention at the current stage” of easing the sanctions, Abe said.
“We need to carefully see whether North Korea will actually move toward abolishing ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear ones,” he said.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Saturday that North Korea has decided to shut down its main nuclear test site and suspend nuclear and missile tests. The KCNA report did not say whether Pyongyang plans to give up its nuclear weapons, however.
Abe said he asked U.S. President Donald Trump during their summit in Florida this month, to convey Japan’s request on the abduction issue to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump and Kim are expected to hold the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit by early June.
Trump told Abe at the summit that he appreciates the feelings of the abductees’ families, Abe said.
Later in the day, Abe told a separate rally on the issue.
“The government will further strengthen calls on North Korea toward the immediate return” of abductees.
Tokyo officially lists 17 citizens as having been abducted by North Korea and suspects its involvement in other disappearance as well.
Five of the 17 were returned to Japan in 2002, but North Korea maintains eight of the others died and the other four never entered the country.