Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday he is willing to hold direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to break a deadlock over the abduction issue.
“I have to meet face-to-face with Chairman Kim Jong Un to resolve this issue,” Abe said at the outset of a meeting with the abductees’ family members.
The meeting comes a week after U.S. President Donald Trump took up the topic during the second U.S.-North Korean summit in Hanoi, relaying Japan’s stance on the issue to Kim at Abe’s request. Trump also raised the issue with Kim in their first summit, last June in Singapore.
“I want to settle the issue in accordance with our basic policy that we will not miss any chance,” Abe said.
Trump briefed Abe on what was discussed during the Hanoi summit over the phone hours after the meeting ended without tangible progress toward the North’s denuclearization.
Tokyo and Pyongyang have not normalized diplomatic ties due to the issue, which involves Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Abe has made the issue one of his administration’s top priorities.
“We have high hopes for the meeting (between Abe and Kim) happening,” 80-year-old Shigeo Iizuka, who heads a group of family members of the missing people, said during the meeting with the prime minister.
Japan officially recognizes 17 citizens, including Iizuka’s younger sister Yaeko Taguchi, as having been kidnapped by North Korea and suspects the country’s involvement in many more disappearances.
Five of the 17 returned home in 2002, and Pyongyang claims that eight have died and the other four were never in the country. However, last month it was reported that Minoru Tanaka, one of the 17 abductees, is living in Pyongyang with his wife and children.
Speaking at a news conference after meeting with Abe, Sakie Yokota, the 83-year-old mother of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted at age 13 in 1977, said she is hoping an “exchange of words between the Japanese and North Korean leaders” will take place.
The family members declined to disclose what Abe told them during the meeting.