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Dark clouds gathering over North Korea’s abduction issue

Tokyo, Jan. 15 (Jiji Press)–Dark clouds are gathering over the issue of Pyongyang’s abductions of Japanese citizens decades ago, with a possible Japan-North Korea summit nowhere in sight and hopes for help from the South in paving the way for the summit waning amid deteriorating ties between Tokyo and Seoul.

“We’ll aim to resolve the abduction issue by taking every possible chance,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a meeting on Tuesday between the government and the ruling bloc.

The Japanese government has repeatedly said that it is continuing “every effort” to resolve the issue by trying to contact North Korea through channels including embassies in Beijing. But it cannot find even a starting point for negotiations with the North.

North Korea shows little interest in Japan as it focuses on negotiations with the United States over its denuclearization, a Japanese government official said.

“Japan-North Korea relations are in a stalemate,” a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

At a press conference in London on Thursday, Abe admitted that “nothing has been set” on a possible summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A recent deterioration in Japan-South Korea ties is also negative for Japan-North Korea negotiations to go forward.

Japan and South Korea have criticized each other over rulings by South Korean courts against Japanese companies over wartime labor and Tokyo’s claim that a South Korean warship directed its fire-control radar at a Japanese patrol plane.

Some lawmakers in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party are calling for sanctions against South Korea, including recalling Japan’s ambassador to South Korea and limiting visa issuances.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in brought up the abduction issue at his summits with Kim in April and September last year. The North Korean leader expressed Pyongyang’s readiness for dialogue with Tokyo.

These developments had raised hope in Japan that Moon would move to broker talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang, but the momentum for an early summit between Abe and Moon has waned due to strained bilateral ties.

Sakie Yokota, the mother of Megumi, one of the abduction victims, met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo Tuesday and asked for Japanese government efforts to resolve the abduction issue.

“My husband in hospital said he will survive until he sees Megumi. We want you to realize a reunion as soon as possible,” Sakie told Suga.

Suga replied that the government will make all-out efforts. But there are no signs of progress toward resolving the issue.


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