Japan is closely watching how the historic summit on Tuesday between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un unfolds, hoping that the issue of Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese nationals will be raised.
In the run-up to the unprecedented meeting, senior Japanese officials were dispatched to Singapore to meet with several U.S. and South Korean officials and keep abreast of developments related to the summit, which is expected to be centered on North Korea’s denuclearization.
The officials continued Tuesday morning to collect information about the ongoing summit.
Tokyo hopes to build on the recent diplomatic momentum surrounding North Korea to eventually make headway on resolving the issue of the abductions of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s, Japanese officials say. Abe has made resolving the issue a top priority for his administration.
Trump reassured Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during telephone talks on Monday the issue would be taken up. Abe said afterward that Trump had promised the issue would be raised “100 percent” in his meeting with Kim.
(PM Abe, right, and families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea)
Abe and Trump also met in Washington last Thursday. At their joint press conference in the U.S. capital, Abe expressed eagerness to meet with Kim, saying, “I would like to directly face North Korea and talk with (Kim) so as to achieve an early resolution of the abduction issue.”
Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims in the 1970s and 1980s and suspects North Korea is involved in many more disappearances. Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, with Pyongyang maintaining that eight had died and four others never entered the country.
Japan and North Korea agreed in 2014 that Pyongyang would reinvestigate the fate of all of the abductees. But the North later disbanded the investigation panel and effectively abandoned the bilateral accord.
The decades-old issue remains a stumbling block for Japan and North Korea to normalize diplomatic ties.