U.S. President Donald Trump pledged Monday to support Japan’s effort to repatriate citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s as he met with a group of the abductees’ kin in Tokyo.
Monday marked the second time for Trump to sit down with family members of the abductees. The families have “suffered the unthinkable heartbreak of having their loved ones abducted by North Korea,” Trump told a joint news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the State Guesthouse at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo.
“The United States also remains committed to the issue of abductions, which I know is a top priority for Prime Minister Abe,” Trump said, adding that his country “will continue to support Japan’s effort” to bring its citizens home.
Trump’s renewed commitment to the abduction issue was perhaps reassuring for Abe, who has gone to great lengths to press the president to raise the topic with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Abe himself hasn’t been able to secure a one-on-one meeting with Kim, thus relying heavily on Trump to serve as his messenger.
“There is no meeting that he’s had (with me) where he doesn’t bring up the abductees,” Trump said of Abe as he met the family members.
At the joint news conference, Abe said Trump had promised him that the U.S. will “spare no effort” to help achieve the repatriation of the abductees. Trump, Abe said, “looked each family member directly in their eyes and at times nodded as he attentively listened” to their stories of heartache.
Repatriating abductees is a top priority for Abe, who played a pioneering role in spotlighting the issue early in his career as a politician, successfully carving out a support base that later helped him win his first prime ministership in 2006.
In what has been widely seen as a shift from his previous policy, Abe has recently said he is willing to meet Kim on an “unconditional” basis, apparently softening his long-held stance that any summit meeting with Kim must yield tangible progress on the abduction issue.
On Monday, Abe repeated that he is willing to meet Kim unconditionally, stressing that he will “discharge my responsibility as the prime minister to do my best to put this matter to rest — even if there is no guarantee that I can sort it out in just one single meeting” with Kim.
At a news conference held after the Abe-Trump summit, the kin of abductees said they have high hopes for Trump.
But Takuya Yokota, whose older sister, Megumi, was abducted by North Korean agents more than four decades ago, said he had conveyed to Trump an important caveat when they met. He said the family members’ collective wish remains the “comprehensive, immediate return of all abductees,” and that the U.S. shouldn’t fall for any attempt by Pyongyang to water down this goal, such as the partial or incremental return of abductees.
“I also told the president that just like he loves first lady Melania and his daughter Ivanka, my father and mother love their daughter dearly, and that it’s an unforgivable human rights violation that they haven’t been able to see her for 41 years,” Yokota said, revealing that Trump then responded to him off-the-cuff by saying efforts to bring them back “must not stop here.”
During a summit in Pyongyang in 2002, then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apologized for the abduction issue when he met then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. But there has been no significant progress in repatriating more abductees, with North Korea having treated the issue as a settled matter.