TOKYO/SEOUL – South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he will raise the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago at his historic summit with the North’s leader later this week.
During a phone conversation with Abe, Moon said he intends to tell Kim Jong Un that a “resolution of the abduction issue will help build peace in northeast Asia,” the presidential office said.
The abduction issue is unlikely to be an official agenda item during the inter-Korean summit but will be touched on by the South Korean president during his conversation with Kim, a senior South Korean government official said.
Abe said if both the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korean summits succeed, Tokyo and Pyongyang could also start a dialogue, according to the presidential office.
The office also quoted Abe as saying that Japan could “put the past behind and normalize ties” based on a 2002 bilateral declaration, on the assumption that the North Korean nuclear, missile and abduction issues are settled.
Moon is expected to meet with Kim on Friday on the southern side of the border truce village of Panmunjeom. The meeting is to be followed by the first-ever U.S-North Korean leaders’ summit by early June.
The two Koreas remain technically at war since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a cease-fire rather than a peace treaty.
Abe and Moon confirmed they will maintain “maximum pressure” on the North and reaffirmed their cooperation with the United States, according to a senior Japanese government official.
During their summit in Florida last week, Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump also reaffirmed they will maintain “maximum pressure” until the North takes concrete steps to give up its nuclear and missile development in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible” way.
Abe and Moon “completely” agreed to cooperate to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s, the Japanese official said.
Abe has maintained that the abduction issue is one of his government’s top priorities. Tokyo officially lists 17 people as abduction victims. Five of them were returned to Japan in 2002, but North Korea insists eight have died and the other four never entered its territory.
Moon’s promise was good news for Abe amid concerns that Japan has been left behind by recent diplomatic moves related to North Korea.
The Moon-Abe talk came days after Pyongyang said it would freeze nuclear and missile tests, and shut down its main nuclear test site.
Abe is looking forward to discussing developing Japan-South Korea relations in a “future-oriented” manner during a trilateral summit with China scheduled for next month, the Japanese official said.
Japan and South Korea will arrange to meet bilaterally on the sidelines of the three-way summit, the official added, while declining to disclose a detailed schedule.