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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reversed course and said he is ready to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without conditions. This must have been a difficult decision for Abe, who has until now demanded that any summit between himself and North Korea’s supreme leader be prefaced by progress over the issue of Pyongyang’s abductions of Japanese citizens. It is a welcome decision, one that bows to the realities of regional diplomacy. It does not, however, guarantee progress in either resolving the abductee issue or the building of relations with North Korea.

Japan has long insisted that the bilateral relationship, and a meeting between the two heads of government, demanded resolution of the abductees issue — definitive and convincing answers to the fate of Japanese individuals seized by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s. Pyongyang has provided answers, but Japanese officials and politicians have challenged them, with Abe the most vocal critic of North Korean statements.

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