U.S. President Barack Obama met three relatives of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and ’80s on Thursday.
The meeting marked the first time Obama had met abductee relatives, signaling that the U.S. and Japan wished to strengthen joint efforts to solve the issue of Pyongyang’s human rights abuses.
Obama met Sakie and Shigeru Yokota, the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977 at the age of 13, and Shigeo Iizuka, whose younger sister Yaeko Taguchi was abducted in 1978 at the age of 22. Iizuka also heads a group of families of Japanese abductees.
The meeting took place at the Akasaka Palace state guesthouse on Thursday afternoon.
Obama said that he is the father of two daughters and that he shares the pain and grief of the families, according to Keiji Furuya, Japan’s state minister in charge of the North Korean abductions issue.
Obama also said he is fully aware that Prime Minister Abe is working the issue of abducted Japanese nationals as his administration’s top priority and expressed U.S. support, Furuya said.
After the meeting, the Yokotas told reporters that they showed Obama several photos of their daughter Megumi and their granddaughter Kim Eun Gyong in Pyongyang. They said Obama recognized that one of the photos is a picture of Kim Eun Gyong and knew that they met her in Mongolia in March.
Obama told to the Yokotas that “you must have been very glad to see her,” according to Furuya and the Yokotas.
Sakie Yokota told reporters that she thought the president “is rich in humanity.”
Iizuka added that he asked Obama to exert U.S. influence and bring North Korea’s human rights practices before the United Nations Security Council. Obama said his administration would certainly do so by working closely with the Japanese government, according to Iizuka.
Megumi Yokota remains a tragic figure for the Japanese abductees and for the nation as a whole.
The last time a U.S. president met with relatives of the abductees was in April 2006 when President George W. Bush met a group including Sakie Yokota at the White House.
The Japanese government has confirmed that North Korea kidnapped 17 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. So far, only five have returned and 12 are unaccounted for.
In September 2002, when then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted for the first time that North Korean agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals. Pyongyang has claimed that eight, including Megumi Yokota, are dead and that the other four never entered the country.
Featured Image: NHK TV
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