March 13, 2018 / 3:00 AM / 3 months ago

Japan tells South Korea it wants abduction issue resolved in North Korea talks

TOKYO (Reuters) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a South Korean representative on Tuesday he wants talks with North Korea, called to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programmes, to resolve a dispute over past abductions of Japanese citizens as well.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a speech at an opening of a new session of parliament in Tokyo, Japan January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files

“A resolution of the abduction, nuclear and missile issues is Japan’s core policy,” Abe told South Korean National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon in Tokyo.

“North Korea must match its words with actions,” Abe said at the start of a meeting to discuss planned talks between the two Koreas and between Pyongyang and Washington.

Tokyo’s insistence on including discussion of the abductions of its citizens by North Korean agents could cause friction between Japan, South Korea and the United States if Seoul or Washington were willing to cut a denuclearisation deal with Pyongyang separate from any abduction agreement.

North Korea admitted in 2002 it had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies, and five of them returned to Japan. Tokyo suspects that hundreds more may have been taken.

Suh urged Japanese cooperation but did not specifically mention the abduction issue.

“Cooperation between the leaders of South Korea and Japan is important for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the resolution of the missile issue,” Suh said.

Pyongyang’s professed desire to abandon nuclear weapons was significant because it came directly from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he said.

Suh told reporters after the meeting that Abe had pledged to provide all cooperation for successful summits between the two Koreas and between the United States and North Korea.

He met Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono on Monday and said after those talks Japan and South Korea had agreed to keep up maximum pressure on North Korea to force it to abandon its nuclear and missile ambitions.

A South Korean presidential Blue House spokesman later said Kono told Suh that the change in the situation on the Korean peninsula was a near “miracle”.

U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to meet North Korea’s Kim by the end of May. South Korean President Moon Jae-in also plans to hold a summit with Kim by the end of April.

Abe, who asked Trump for help to resolve the abduction issue in a telephone call after the announcement of planned talks, has said he plans to travel to the United States next month to meet the U.S. leader.

Reporting by Tim Kelly; Additional reporting by Kyung Hoon Kim and Heejung Jung; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Paul Tait

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