Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated Sunday his hope to hold unconditional and candid talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“By meeting Workers’ Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un without setting conditions, I want to talk with him frankly with an open mind,” Abe said during a meeting in Tokyo with family members of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
Abe also pledged to resolve the long-standing issue while he is in power, adding U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with the families during his four-day visit to Japan as a state guest from next Saturday.
“The president has his heart set on helping,” Abe said, while Sakie Yokota, the mother of Megumi Yokota who was abducted at age 13 in 1977, said the families have waited anxiously for so long for the return of their loved ones.
In the run-up to the Upper House election in July, Abe has started repeating his desire to hold talks with Kim, even without preconditions, a shift from his previous position that any summit should yield progress on the abduction issue.
An early settlement of the abduction issue remains a major political goal for Abe, who, unlike the leaders of the other major countries dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue, is yet to hold a meeting with Kim.
Japan officially lists 17 people as abductees, five of whom were repatriated in 2002, and suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances.
But North Korea has insisted the abduction issue has already been resolved.
Japan has said it will normalize relations with North Korea if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear and missile programs, and resolves the abduction issue.
During a visit to the U.S. earlier this month, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called for an early resolution to the abduction issue, framing it as a “global challenge.”
Speaking at an event at U.N. headquarters in New York, he said the government has been injecting “maximum effort” to realize the return of all abductees “at the earliest possible timing.”