The news Sunday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s interest in holding a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered a glimmer of hope to the relatives of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea decades ago.
“The fact that Prime Minister Abe and Kim Jong Un are both looking for talks is the clearest and most promising development we have seen so far,” said Sakie Yokota, the 82-year-old mother of Megumi, who was abducted in 1977 at the age of 13.
“Things are finally moving forward and I hope they go well,” she added.
South Korea’s presidential office said Sunday that Kim had told President Moon Jae-in during their historic summit Friday that he is ready to hold a dialogue with Japan.
Moon told Abe during their telephone conversation Sunday he raised the topic of the Japanese abductees in his talks with Kim.
Kayoko Arimoto, 92, said she hopes her daughter, Keiko, who was abducted at age 23, will not completely give up hope of returning home.
“The inter-Korean summit was reported within North Korea so Keiko must have seen the news. I hope it gave her hope of returning, even a little,” she said.
“This is an issue that cannot be solved by Japan alone. It is important that Japan, the United States and South Korea work together, with the United States keeping up pressure on” North Korea, she added.
Shigeo Iizuka, the 79-year-old head of a group representing abductees’ families, said it is too early to expect progress.
“There is no telling what will come out of this development until North Korea actually provides an explanation,” said Iizuka, whose younger sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was kidnapped when she was 22.
Japan officially lists 17 of its citizens as having been abducted by North Korea and suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances as well.
Five of the 17 were allowed to return to Japan in 2002 but no major progress has been made since then. North Korea maintains eight have died and the other four were never in the country.