U.S. President Donald Trump has promised that the issue of North Korea's past abductions of Japanese nationals will be raised "100 percent" in his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday after speaking on the phone with Trump.
As the United States stepped up last-minute preparations for the much anticipated U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore on Tuesday, Abe and Trump reaffirmed their basic policy on North Korea.
Trump "guaranteed 100 percent" that the abduction issue will be raised, Abe told a gathering in Tokyo after the phone call.
The prime minister has been asking Trump to urge the North Korean leader to resolve the issue of the abductions that took place in the 1970s and 1980s, saying recently he also wants to meet with Kim to seek an early resolution. The issue has prevented the two countries from establishing diplomatic ties.
"I believe that Japan and the United States, along with South Korea, have completely…agreed on the basic policy (for the summit)," Abe told reporters at the prime minister's office.
"I hope that the (U.S.-North Korea) summit tomorrow will become a historic summit and a major step toward peace and stability in Northeast Asia," he said.
Japan has dispatched a team of senior government officials to Singapore in an effort to keep abreast of developments related to the summit at which North Korea's denuclearization will be the main item on the agenda.
During a parliamentary session on Monday, Foreign Minister Taro Kono revealed the Japanese and U.S. leaders plan to speak on the phone after Tuesday's summit.
Relatives of abductees said the summit presents a now-or-never opportunity for the return of their loved ones.
"This will be the only chance. We will be counting on President Trump's ability (as a deal maker)," said Shigeo Iizuka, the 80-year-old head of a group representing abductees' families.
Iizuka's younger sister Yaeko Taguchi was abducted by North Korea when she was 22 years old.
"Please return our children in good shape. We would like to make sure this message will be conveyed (to Kim)," said Sakie Yokota, 82, whose daughter Megumi was kidnapped at age 13 on her way home from school in Niigata Prefecture in 1977.
The teen's abduction has become symbolic of the issue, and Trump spoke about her during his address at the U.N. General Assembly in September.
Looking back at her long battle to secure the return of her daughter, Yokota said, "I hope Mr Kim Jong Un will understand the feelings of the parents."
Yokota said she wondered how Japan would be viewed by the rest of the world if it cannot seize such a golden opportunity, expressing her hope for the realization of a meeting between Abe and Kim as well as enhanced efforts by the Japanese government toward resolving the abduction issue.
Iizuka spoke highly of Trump's promise to include the abduction issue in the summit agenda along with the denuclearization of North Korea, hoping the return of the abductees will be ensured at the U.S.-North Korean summit before actual procedures for the return are worked out between Japan and North Korea.
"If we fail to capitalize on this opportunity, the abduction issue will vanish," he said.
Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea's involvement in many more disappearances. While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang maintains that eight — including Megumi Yokota — have died and the other four never entered the country.