WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly took up the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February, a senior U.S. official said Friday. Matt Pottinger, senior director for Asia at the National Security Council, disclosed the information at a meeting in Washington with family members of abduction victims. Pottinger pledged U.S. support for efforts to resolve the decades-old issue. According to Lower House lawmaker Keiji Furuya, Pottinger explained that at the bilateral summit, Trump referred to the abduction issue repeatedly, although Kim tried to change the subject of their talks. Furuya, who chairs a group of lawmakers working on the abduction issue, joined the meeting between Pottinger and the family members of abductees.
As they watched footage of the historic summit between leaders of the United States and North Korea on Tuesday, relatives of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago expressed hope that the landmark meeting in Singapore will lead to the return of their loved ones. "For us (relatives of abductees,) we are pleased that we have finally come this far," Sakie Yokota, 82, told reporters who gathered at a small meeting hall near her home in Kawasaki, hours after the end of the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "We wish for the Japan-North Korea relationship to recover soon, and sincerely hope that victims (of abductions) return in good shape," added Yokota, whose daughter, Megumi, was 13 years old when she was kidnapped in 1977 while on her way home from school in Niigata Prefecture. At a news conference after the meeting, Trump said he had discussed the abduction issue with Kim, although it was not included in a joint document signed by the two leaders. "I am not pessimistic … I knew things wouldn't be that easy," Yokota said, adding that she hopes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet with Kim and discuss the abduction issue as soon as possible. Abe reiterated Tokyo's willingness to hold its own summit meeting with Kim to negotiate first-hand the return of abductees.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaffirmed to the families of North Korean kidnap victims on Thursday his government's vow to bring the abductees back home to Japan in cooperation with the United States. In a meeting with the relatives at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo, Abe said he had also expressed this resolve in his address at the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York earlier this month. Also before the U.N. assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump had referred to Megumi Yokota, the daughter of Shigeru and Sakie Yokota who was abducted by North Korea in 1977 at age 13 and has become a symbol of the abductees' plight. Amid rising tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile development, the families of some of the abductees have raised concerns that the issue might be taking a backseat. "As the United States is willing to cooperate in resolving the issue, we will continue to emphasize its importance to the international community," Abe said at the meeting, which was open to the media.
Family members of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s on Monday requested that U.S. President Joe Biden's administration focus on resolving the long-standing abduction issue. Sakie Yokota, 85, mother of then 13-year-old Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped on her way home from school, and her younger brother Takuya, 52, filed the request addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a meeting with Joseph Young, charge d'affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. It marked the first time that relatives of abduction victims had met with a senior U.S. official since Biden took office in January. The meeting took place a day before the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and the United States hold security talks in the Japanese capital at which North Korea and other regional issues are on the agenda. "We requested the Biden administration focus on resolving the abduction issue," just as previous U.S. administrations did, Takuya Yokota, who serves as secretary general of a group of the victims' families, told reporters. Tsutomu Nishioka, chairman of an advocacy group for the abductees, joined the Yokotas in handing Young a letter asking the new U.S. administration to "continue closely cooperating with the Japanese government in striving to realize the swift repatriation of all abduction victims."
Families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea have called for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to fulfill the promises made by incumbent President Donald Trump in realizing the return of their loved ones. "The United States has continued to demonstrate an attitude of cooperation, and there is an expectation that Mr. Biden will also tackle the abduction issue," said Shigeo Iizuka, who heads a group of the victims' families. The 82-year-old, whose sister Yaeko Taguchi was abducted in 1978 at the age of 22, noted that three successive U.S. presidents -- George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump -- had met with families of the abductees. But Iizuka could not hide concerns that Washington, still in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic and heightened racial tensions, may be too preoccupied with domestic affairs to address the abduction issue. Families and supporters have also urged Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to act swiftly on the matter without just relying on the United States.