TOKYO — Families of Japanese abducted by North Korea decades ago have asked the U.S. ambassador to Japan to urge President Donald Trump to discuss ways to win their loved ones' return at his summit with the North's leader.
Trump says he expects to meet Kim Jong Un in May or early June. Pyongyang recently indicated interest in a summit.
Expectations for a breakthrough are high among the abductees' families as preparations for talks move forward.
Japan says North Korea abducted at least 17 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train agents in Japanese language and culture to spy on South Korea.
North Korea has acknowledged abducting only 13 Japanese in the 1970s. The North allowed five of them to visit Japan in 2002 and they stayed. Pyongyang says eight others have died, but their families say what the North says cannot be trusted. North Korea has also promised a reinvestigation of the eight and set up a committee, but it was never pursued as the North's missile and nuclear threats escalated.
Shigeo Iizuka, head of the group representing the families of abduction victims, said years of their efforts have achieved little results, but that they feel there are signs of a change.
"We would like to ask President Trump to strongly urge North Korea to return the abductees," Iizuka told the ambassador, William Hagerty, at the ambassador's residence Tuesday. "We need his help to push for specific measures so that the victims can come home."
Iizuka's younger sister, Yaeko Taguchi, then 22, was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1978, with her two young children — a boy and a girl — left at a Tokyo nursery. Iizuka adopted the boy, while the girl was adopted by an aunt.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the U.S. next week for talks with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Abe told a parliamentary session on Monday that he would seek Trump's support on the abduction issue. He also said he would urge him to demand that North Korea abandon shorter-range missiles, not just the long-range ones capable of reaching the U.S.
Hagerty said the abduction issue is high on the agenda for the Trump-Abe talks.
"I felt that it was strictly important that I meet with the families of the abductees today so that I could understand their stories and convey their feelings to the president when I am with him next week," said Hagerty, who will fly back to the U.S. to join Trump.