WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly took up the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February, a senior U.S. official said Friday.
Matt Pottinger, senior director for Asia at the National Security Council, disclosed the information at a meeting in Washington with family members of abduction victims.
Pottinger pledged U.S. support for efforts to resolve the decades-old issue.
According to Lower House lawmaker Keiji Furuya, Pottinger explained that at the bilateral summit, Trump referred to the abduction issue repeatedly, although Kim tried to change the subject of their talks.
Furuya, who chairs a group of lawmakers working on the abduction issue, joined the meeting between Pottinger and the family members of abductees.
Takuya Yokota, a younger brother of Megumi Yokota, who was taken at age 13 in 1977, asked the United States to help with the immediate resolution of the abduction issue. Noting that his 86-year-old father, Shigeru Yokota, is in the hospital, Yokota said his family is running out of time.
After the meeting, Yokota told reporters, “We learned that we and the United States are on the same wavelength, and this is a significant result.”
But Yokota also said he requested Washington refrain from easing sanctions on Pyongyang unless all victims are returned.
Speaking at an event in Washington, Yokota also urged the U.S. government not to extend economic aid to North Korea during denuclearization negotiations unless Pyongyang immediately resolves the abduction issue.
Koichiro Iizuka, a son of Yaeko Taguchi, who was kidnapped from an unknown location in 1978 at the age of 22, filed a similar request.
Yokota and Iizuka, together with Japanese lawmakers, also met with Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, on Thursday.
Akira Sato, senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office, said he requested that Pottinger ask Trump to spend time with abductees’ families when he visits Japan in late May for a meeting with Emperor Naruhito.
Speaking at the event, Cindy Warmbier, mother of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who died in 2017 following more than a year in detention in North Korea, expressed solidarity with the families of Japanese abductees.
Warmbier said the U.S. government should not ease sanctions on North Korea.
Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances.
While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang maintains that eight — including Megumi Yokota — have died and the other four never entered the country.