Japan may welcome talks with North Korea over kidnapped Japanese

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a news conference a day before Japan remembers the victims of the March 11, 2011 triple disaster at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, March 10, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Japan is not discounting the possibility of carrying out talks with North Korea to discuss the matter of Japanese citizens kidnapped by agents of the authoritarian country decades ago.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump next month in Washington ahead of the landmark summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which is set to take place in May.

Abe has made the issue of the abductees a keystone of his political agenda. However, there are worries that Japan’s interests may be sidelined by concerns over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Welcoming the possibility of talks is in contrast with Japan’s longstanding policy towards Pyongyang, which focused on exerting the maximum pressure on North Korea and dismissed the idea of “talks for the sake of talks.”

However, with both South Korea and the United States moving towards carrying out a summit with the Hermit Kingdom, it could be in Japan’s best interest to be involved in the talks to voice out its own concerns.

“It is important to harmonize policies closely among Japan, the United States and South Korea ahead of the North-South summit and the U.S-North Korea summit,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

“After that, while liaising closing among the three countries, we will address how to comprehensively resolve the nuclear, missile and abduction issues,” Suga added. “Amid that, we want to consider what would be most effective and address the issues from that perspective.”

An anonymous source from the Japanese government also said that Tokyo is also considering having a meeting between Abe himself and Kim.

Abe has previously said that he will not rest until all 13 of the Japanese citizens that Pyongyang admitted to kidnapping have been retrieved. In 2002, five of the abductees returned home, while North Korea said the other eight were dead. Since then, progress on the issue has stalled.