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With Pyongyang summit nowhere in sight, pessimism grows in Tokyo over North Korean abductions issue

JIJI

With no possibility of a Japan-North Korea summit anywhere in sight, and hopes fading that South Korea could pave the way for such a meeting amid deteriorating ties between Tokyo and Seoul, pessimism seems to be growing in Japan over whether the issue of Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese nationals will be resolved anytime soon.

“We’ll aim to resolve the abduction issue by exploring every possible opportunity” for a resolution, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a meeting Tuesday between the government and the ruling bloc.

The government has repeatedly said it is continuing “every effort” to resolve the issue by trying to contact North Korea through diplomatic channels, including through embassies in Beijing.

But it does not appear to have found even a starting point for negotiations with Pyongyang.

North Korea has shown little interest in Japan as it focuses on negotiations with the United States over its denuclearization, a Japanese government official said.

“Japan-North Korea relations are in a stalemate,” said a senior Foreign Ministry official.

At a news conference in London last week, Abe admitted that “nothing has been set” on a possible summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A recent deterioration in Japan-South Korea ties has also damaged the potential for productive negotiations between Tokyo and Pyongyang going forward.

Japan and South Korea have exchanged criticism following rulings by South Korean courts against Japanese firms over wartime forced labor, as well as Tokyo’s claim that a South Korean warship recently directed its fire-control radar at a Japanese patrol plane.

Some lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are calling for sanctions and other steps against South Korea, including recalling Japan’s ambassador to South Korea and limiting the number of visas issued.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in brought up the abduction issue at his summits with Kim in April and September last year, and the North Korean leader had expressed Pyongyang’s readiness for dialogue with Tokyo.

These developments had raised hope in Japan that Moon would move to broker talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang, but that possibility has waned due to strained Japan-South Korea ties.

Sakie Yokota, the mother of Megumi Yokota, one of the abduction victims, met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo on Tuesday and urged the government to resolve the abduction issue.

“My husband is in the hospital and said he will survive until he sees Megumi,” Sakie Yokota told Suga.

“We want you to realize a reunion as soon as possible.”