Japan's Abe says North Korea can settle old kidnapping row

Reuters News
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Posted: May 29, 2013 7:02 AM
Japan's Abe says North Korea can settle old kidnapping row

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he believed North Korea's young leader was capable of making the right decision to resolve a dispute over kidnapped Japanese citizens, repeating he was open to a summit if it would settle the row.

Abe made his remarks in a television interview two weeks after a surprise visit to Pyongyang by his aide, Isao Iijima. That visit upset South Korea and the United States, both of which feared Tokyo might do a deal on abductees without addressing North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Iijima's visit to Pyongyang and talks with senior officials there fuelled speculation that Abe might seek a summit with Kim Jong-un to achieve a breakthrough ahead of a July 21 upper house election to boost his already high popularity ratings.

"The important thing is whether I can achieve results by going there and negotiating," Abe told Japanese TV station TBS.

"If the problem is resolved, holding a summit would be an option naturally. But if not, holding a summit for the sake of a summit would mean nothing."

Ties with North Korea have long been fraught over Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programs and Japanese anger over the abduction of its citizens by North Korean agents decades ago.

"Kim Jong-un was not involved in kidnapping operations basically. It's true that his father did it, but he's got nothing to do with it," Abe said. "I think his administration will be capable of deciding to do the right thing as a new leader."

Kim Jong-un's father, the late Kim Jong-il, admitted during then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to North Korea in 2002 that Pyongyang's agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

Five abductees were later repatriated. Pyongyang says the other eight are dead, but Tokyo wants more information about them and others it believes were also kidnapped.

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Ron Popeski)