Abe says he too wants a Kim Jong-un summit

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Abe says he too wants a Kim Jong-un summit

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would pursue a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in an interview published Thursday.

In an interview with Sankei Shimbun, Abe stressed that he would like to have “truthful and open discussions” with Kim “without any conditions,” mainly regarding the issue of Japanese abductees by North Korea.

Calling the matter “the height of outrageousness,” Abe stressed that it was necessary that Japan “actively deal with the issue in cooperation with the international community,” and that there was no other way to “break the shell of mutual distrust between North Korea and Japan” unless he “directly meets with Chairman Kim.”

Treading carefully with his diplomatic language, Abe added that he hopes Kim is “a leader who is able to make flexible and strategic decisions for the best interests of his country.”

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced last week that he will visit Washington and New York between May 9 to 12 to discuss the abductee issue with U.S. officials and rally international support for the cause by holding a symposium at the United Nations (UN).

There is speculation that Suga could deliver Abe’s summit proposal to the North’s UN envoys while in New York.

It is rare for the Chief Cabinet Secretary - who coordinates the policies of Japan’s various ministries and agencies - to go on an overseas trip, but Suga said he would be undertaking the visit to the United States as part of his role as minister in charge of the abduction issue. Japan claims that North Korean agents kidnapped 17 of its citizens from 1977 to 1983, and it has since mounted a high-profile campaign to seek their repatriation.

In 2002, Abe accompanied Junichiro Koizumi, the prime minister at the time, on a trip to Pyongyang, where they met with Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, the North’s leader at the time, to discuss the abductee issue.

Senior officials in Tokyo reportedly believe that the circumstances that ultimately made that landmark trip are not too different from those of the present, and that Kim Jong-un could be willing to meet Abe in the face of continued stagnation in the North’s negotiations with the United States following the collapse of the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam.

At the time, North Korea was the first to reach out to Japan amid growing economic difficulties and diplomatic isolation resulting from the hard-line policies on the North of the George W. Bush administration in the United States.

After the summit, Kim Jong-il agreed to return five abductees to Japan, saying that the rest had died since they had been brought to the North.

Yet Tokyo believes that at least one of the abductees remains held by Pyongyang, and Abe hopes a new round of personal diplomacy with Kim Jong-un could put an end to the issue while also raising Japan’s profile as a major player in the engagement process with North Korea. Abe also said in his Thursday interview that he discussed the abductees with U.S. President Donald Trump in a private conversation while playing golf during their summit last week, and that he gained Trump’s complete support in pursuing a summit with North Korea to reach a solution.

“To resolve the abduction issue would mean first normalizing relations as per the North Korea-Japan Joint Peace Declaration,” Abe said, referring to the joint communique signed by Koizumi and Kim Jong-il in 2002 in which the two sides agreed to “make every possible effort for an early normalization.”

For Pyongyang, normalization with Tokyo may allow it to seek reparations from Japan for its colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945, similar to the arrangement reached by Seoul and Tokyo in 1965.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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