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Editorial: Cooperation with U.S., South Korea necessary to solve abduction issue

How can the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea be solved in parallel with realizing the denuclearization of the North? The Japanese government must work out a meticulous strategy for a summit meeting with the North.

 

Tokyo and Pyongyang have started making arrangements for a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea. It is assumed that the summit will be held with Abe visiting Pyongyang or on the sidelines of an international conference. A high-ranking official of the Foreign Ministry has contacted a North Korean official in Mongolia.

 

During the recent U.S.-North Korea summit, U.S. President Donald Trump raised the abduction issue and suggested that Kim meet with Abe. Kim replied, “I understand.” Kim did not refer to the North’s conventional standpoint that “the abduction issue has already been resolved.” It is laudable that Kim’s flexible stance toward dialogue has been elicited.

 

No one other than Kim can reveal the entire picture of the abductions and make a decision to return the abductees to Japan. It is reasonable to try to break the stalemate in the abduction issue through a meeting of the top leaders of the two countries.

 

North Korea had pledged to conduct a reinvestigation of the abductees, but suspended it unilaterally. If Japan demands a reinvestigation anew, it is imperative to ensure it is carried out absolutely by the North.

 

In a meeting with immediate families of abductees still remaining in North Korea, Abe said, “I will confront North Korea directly to resolve the issue.” The families of abduction victims have been swayed by the North’s insincere responses in the past, only to have their hopes betrayed. The same mistake must not be repeated.

 

Japan’s strategy to be tested

 

If the abduction issue is resolved in a package with the issue of nuclear and missile development, it will open a path to normalization of diplomatic relations with North Korea. Economic cooperation based on the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration will be made possible, too. How can Tokyo draw a concession from Pyongyang by presenting such a scenario? Japan’s diplomatic strategy will be tested in this regard.

 

It is essential for Japan to keep close cooperation with the United States and South Korea.

 

A matter of concern is that Trump has been showing a conciliatory stance toward the North.

 

In a press conference held after the summit with Kim, Trump expressed the idea of suspending joint military exercises with South Korea as long as U.S.-North Korea talks proceed smoothly. Various kinds of military exercises are indispensable to maintaining the proficiency levels of troops. U.S. troops stationed in Japan also have taken part in the joint drills.

Under circumstances in which the North’s military threats remain, a unilateral concession could lead to lowering deterrent power.

 

In a meeting held in Seoul with Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized a firm relationship of alliance. The United States is called on to work toward dispelling the worries of Japan and South Korea.

 

The joint statement issued after the Trump-Kim summit did not mention the North’s commitment to “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”

 

To realize denuclearization, it is vital for North Korea to declare its nuclear arms, nuclear materials and related facilities and then abandon them, which will be followed by verification by such organizations as the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is essential to hammer out a roadmap specifying concrete steps and deadlines and press Pyongyang to implement it.

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