TOKYO — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a recent meeting that he was well aware of the abduction issue with Japan, Japanese government sources said Saturday.
Kim made the comment as Pompeo raised the need to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s, the sources said.
The Japanese government has been analyzing what Kim’s real intentions are, including whether he made the remark to indicate he understood the importance of resolving the issue, the sources said.
It is the first time that exchanges over the abduction issue during high-level preparatory talks between Washington and Pyongyang for the summit have come to light.
As North Korea has maintained that the abduction issue has been settled, Tokyo has asked Washington to raise it in the run-up to the U.S.-North Korea summit, which will be held on June 12 in Singapore.
In either of his two recent meetings with Kim in North Korea — one on April 1 as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the other on May 9 as secretary of state — Pompeo urged Kim to address the abduction issue, according to the sources.
Pompeo also explained that Japan would extend economic support if the abduction, nuclear and missile issues are resolved in a comprehensive manner and Japan-North Korea relations are normalized, the sources added.
On May 12, North Korea’s state-run media reiterated Pyongyang’s stance on its past abductions.
“The reactionaries of Japan are hyping the ‘issue of abduction’ which had already been settled,” the Korean Central News Agency said in English at the time.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made it a priority for his administration to resolve the long-standing issue that has been close to his heart.
Abe will ask U.S. President Donald Trump again next Thursday to take up the abduction issue when he meets with Kim, as the prime minister plans to stop by the United States before traveling to Canada for a Group of Seven leaders’ summit.
Japan officially lists 17 of its citizens as having been abducted by North Korea and suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances.
Five of the 17 were repatriated to Japan in 2002 but no major progress has been made since then. North Korea maintains eight have died and the other four were never in the country.
In 2014, Tokyo and Pyongyang reached an accord in Stockholm on principles for negotiations toward the settlement of their key issues, including the abduction problem, and agreed to report the results of North Korea’s own investigation into Japanese abductees.
But the negotiations have been stalled with Pyongyang repeatedly postponing the reporting.
North Korea in 2016 disbanded a special committee looking into the whereabouts of missing Japanese nationals suspected of being abducted after Japan decided to tighten unilateral sanctions on the North. The stricter sanctions were decided in response to Pyongyang’s series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests.