As the government’s new point man on the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he will do all in his power to bring the issue to a close and secure the safe return of all who were kidnapped.
Suga, Japan’s top government spokesman, was tapped to double as the abduction minister in a reshuffle of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet earlier this month. It is his first time to tackle the post.
“Upon my inauguration as the abduction minister, Prime Minister Abe told me not to let the slightest opportunity slip through our fingers,” Suga said in a joint interview with media outlets, including The Japan Times, on Thursday.
“Without missing out on any chance — however small — I will do my best to put an end to the abduction issue,” he said.
Specifically, Suga said it is incumbent on the government to “ensure the safety of all abductees, repatriate them immediately, uncover the truth of the kidnappings and achieve the extradition of the kidnappers.”
Abe has repeatedly expressed an interest in meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un one-on-one to settle the abduction row.
When asked about the possibility of an Abe-Kim meeting materializing sometime by the end of the year, Suga remained noncommittal and only reiterated that the government would seize “every available chance.” But he denied media reports Japan had proposed to North Korea a plan to establish a liaison office in Pyongyang in order to resolve the row.
On a more positive note, Suga said he understands the historic summit meeting in June between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump “created new momentum,” offering a break from the prolonged stalemate that had dogged negotiations over the abduction issue.
“It is in light of this new wave that I think we (Japan and North Korea) will have to break the shell of mutual distrust.”
But at the same time, Suga voiced displeasure with what is seen as Pyongyang’s unilateral scrapping of the so-called Stockholm agreement made with Japan in 2014. Under the deal, North Korea pledged to reinvestigate through the creation of a special committee its past abductions of all Japanese in the 1970s and 80s in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions.
Pyongyang’s unilateral announcement in 2016 that it was dissolving the committee and halting its comprehensive probe into the abduction issue was “completely unacceptable,” Suga said, adding that Japan has “no intention to scrap the deal (even now).”