TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Thursday with families of people abducted by North Korea decades ago and pledged to deal directly with the North to resolve the issue.
Abe vowed to seek a summit with North Korea, but only when its leader is committed to resolving the abduction issue.
U.S. President Donald Trump said he raised the issue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their summit in Singapore on Tuesday, keeping his promise to Abe who had repeatedly sought Trump's help.
Abe said he will make use of the momentum to pursue the effort. "I'm determined to deal with North Korea face-to-face and resolve the abduction issue," Abe told the families.
Japanese officials have already begun approaching North Korea. A senior Japanese diplomat, Fumio Shimizu, spoke Thursday with North Korean officials attending a security conference in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, the Foreign Ministry said. Japanese officials are seeking a possible summit in September when both Abe and Kim are expected to attend an economic forum in Vladivostok in Russia's far east, according to news reports.
The mother of an abductee, Sakie Yokota, said after meeting with Abe on Thursday that it is important for Kim to be told of the problem. Her daughter Megumi was abducted from Japan's northern coast when she was 13. Yokota asked Abe to move quickly so elderly families can get their loved ones back while they are still alive.
"It's extremely significant that the North Korean leader was clearly reminded of the abduction issue," Yokota, 82, told reporters after meeting Abe. "As we are all getting older and weaker, I told (Abe) that we are anxious to see our loved ones as soon as possible."
Megumi is one of at least 17 Japanese that the government says were abducted in the 1970s and 1980s to North Korea to teach Japanese culture and language to agents.
After years of denials, North Korea acknowledged in 2002 abducting 13. It allowed five to temporarily visit Japan later that year, though they never returned. North Korea has said eight others, including Megumi, have died, but their families and Japan's government refuse to accept that due to a lack of proof.