National / Politics

In phone talks, Abe and Trump agree to work together to resolve North Korea abductions issue

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed Wednesday to cooperate in addressing issues linked to North Korea, including past abductions of Japanese citizens, before Trump meets with the North’s leader Kim Jong Un next week.

“We firmly and closely coordinated our policies in the run-up to the second U.S.-North Korea summit to resolve nuclear, missile and abduction issues,” Abe told reporters after speaking with Trump on the phone.

Abe said Trump promised to prioritize helping address the abductions by North Korean agents of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, which has prevented the normalization of diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang. Abe has also expressed his readiness to meet directly with Kim.

Trump and Kim are scheduled to hold their second summit on Feb. 27 and 28 in Hanoi.

“I strongly hope the upcoming talks will lead to peace and stability in East Asia,” said Abe, who added that Trump will brief him after the summit over the phone.

When Trump met with Kim for the first time in Singapore in June last year, they agreed that Washington would provide security guarantees to Pyongyang in return for “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. Trump also took up the abduction issue at Abe’s request.

Abe and Trump also agreed that the president will visit Japan from May 26, a Japanese official said.

With the visit, Trump is expected to be the first foreign state guest to meet Crown Prince Naruhito after his planned ascension to the throne on May 1, Japanese government sources said earlier.

Trump is also expected to visit Japan in June for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka. It is unusual for a U.S. president to visit a foreign country twice in just two months.

The White House said separately that Abe and Trump “reaffirmed their commitment to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, and agreed to coordinate closely in advance of the Hanoi summit.

Earlier Wednesday, Abe told a Diet committee that his administration “will decisively take action not to miss any opportunity” for addressing the abductions issue.

In a meeting with Abe on Tuesday, Shigeo Iizuka, head of a group representing abductees’ families, called for a resolution of the issue and relayed to the prime minister the group’s new message for the North Korean leader.

“We would not oppose diplomatic normalization if all the abduction victims are immediately returned,” the group said in its statement.

Tokyo officially considers 17 Japanese nationals as having been abducted by the North and suspects the country’s involvement in many more disappearances. Five of the 17 returned in 2002.

North Korea has confirmed that Minoru Tanaka, one of the 17 victims, is living in Pyongyang with his wife, and Tatsumitsu Kaneda, who Tokyo believes was abducted, is also in the country, another Japanese official said recently.