The government said it is determined to settle the issue of nationals abducted by North Korea through direct talks with its leader Kim Jong Un, after U.S. President Donald Trump raised the issue during his historic summit with Kim on Tuesday in Singapore.
“I’m determined that Japan will have to directly face North Korea and resolve (the abduction issue) bilaterally,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters later in the day, after speaking by phone with the U.S. leader.
Trump “told me that he accurately conveyed my thoughts about the issue to Mr. Kim,” Abe said, but declined to elaborate.
Separately, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference, “We have not changed our determination to settle (the abduction issue) by directly negotiating with North Korea.”
The government will take steps to initiate direct negotiations with North Korea, officials said. The Foreign Ministry will send a senior official from its Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau to a two-day international meeting in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator from Thursday, which will be attended by a North Korean representative.
Tokyo has long sought the return of Japanese kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s. After his talks with Trump last Thursday in Washington, Abe expressed willingness to meet with Kim to seek an early resolution to the issue.
During the first-ever direct talks between a serving U.S. president and North Korean leader, Trump and Kim agreed to work toward “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” according to a joint statement released after the Singapore summit.
Abe welcomed that development, saying it will be “a step toward the comprehensive resolution of various issues” concerning North Korea.
“North Korea has rich (natural) resources and a diligent workforce. It will have a bright future if it treads the right path,” Abe said at a news conference earlier in the day.
In their phone conversation Tuesday, Abe and Trump reaffirmed their “basic policy urging (other countries) to completely implement” U.N. sanctions on North Korea, Abe said. “Even if a certain promise is made at the summit, we should be careful about lowering our guard until we can confirm that specific steps have been taken,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said.
As North Korea’s nuclear and missile development poses a security threat to Japan, the Abe administration has stressed over recent years the need to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities.
Ahead of the Singapore summit, Tokyo sought to coordinate policy toward Pyongyang with Washington, and Trump promised to raise the long-standing issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea.
But Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the abduction issue is something that Japan and North Korea will eventually have to deal with by themselves.
Kono plans to visit South Korea from Wednesday for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is accompanying Trump to Singapore, and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.