The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is paying close attention to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s approach to nuclear-armed North Korea, as Tokyo seeks to resolve the festering issue of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang decades ago.
But progress on the issue — a top concern of Suga — depends heavily on the course of U.S. relations with North Korea.
Japan will convey to Biden’s side its position on the abduction issue plus North Korea’s missile and nuclear development programs before the U.S. presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, informed sources said.
On Sunday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato attended a meeting held in Niigata to seek the resolution of the issue and renewed the government’s determination to resolve the issue in cooperation with the next U.S. administration.
“We’ll make full efforts to bring home all abductees as soon as possible,” said Kato, also minister in charge of the abduction issue.
Suga has expressed his readiness to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without setting preconditions, taking over the policy of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.
However, a senior Japanese government official said that there has been “no reaction at all” from Pyongyang.
In his first telephone talks with Biden on Thursday, Suga asked for support and understanding on the abduction issue.
The two confirmed cooperation over North Korea issues only in general, and Biden did not mention the abduction issue.
During the U.S. presidential election campaign, Biden criticized President Donald Trump over his meetings with Kim.
Biden is likely to “take a hard line on North Korea to show a difference from Trump,” a Japanese government source said.
Meanwhile, uncertainty remains over the course Biden will take over major policy issues, which also include the novel coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
“It will take time before the United States and North Korea start to move,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
Sakie Yokota, the mother of one of the Japanese abductee, Megumi Yokota, called on the government on Sunday to exercise its ability to bring her daughter and other victims back home from North Korea.
“I want (the government) to tackle (the abduction issue) firmly and exercise its ability to get things done,” Yokota, 84, said in a video message to the Niigata gathering.
Sunday marked the 43th anniversary of the abduction of Megumi, then a 13-year-old resident of Niigata.
The gathering brought together some 200 people, with the number of participants limited to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
At the beginning of the meeting, the participants offered a silent prayer for Shigeru Yokota, the father of Megumi, who died in June at age 87.
Tetsuya Yokota, 52, a younger brother of Megumi, said, “We won’t break down until all abduction victims return home. I’ll inherit my father’s unfulfilled wishes.”
Former abductee Hitomi Soga, 61, urged the government to rack its brain more than ever to bring a solution to the decades-old abduction issue.
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