TOKYO • The US ambassador to Japan yesterday met the families of people who North Korea abducted decades ago to train as spies, just a week before Japan's Prime Minister is expected to raise the emotive topic at a summit with US President Donald Trump.
The issue is a top domestic priority for premier Shinzo Abe, whose support has been undermined by scandals over suspected cronyism and cover-ups.
But Japan worries that it could take a back seat to nuclear and missile issues in a series of summits planned with North Korea.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train as spies, and five of them returned to Japan.
Mr Abe has said he will not rest until all 13 have come home, making the issue a keystone of his political career.
In an apparent nod to Japan's concerns, United States Ambassador William Hagerty and his wife met abductees' family members, such as Madam Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was snatched from a beach as a teenager 40 years ago.
WITHOUT A TRACE
Even today, as we speak, we don't know where they are, what life they are pursuing. We haven't even seen one single photograph of them. The only thing we are asking for is to help our children who were kidnapped.
MADAM SAKIE YOKOTA, whose daughter Megumi was snatched from a beach as a teenager 40 years ago.
Mr Trump, who met Madam Yokota among other relatives of abductees when he visited Japan in November, has incorporated the story of Megumi into his attacks on Pyongyang.
"Even today, as we speak, we don't know where they are, what life they are pursuing," Madam Yokota said. "We haven't even seen one single photograph of them. The only thing we are asking for is to help our children who were kidnapped."
Mr Hagerty told them their plight had not been forgotten, pledging to convey their stories to Mr Trump ahead of the summit.
"We're deeply saddened by the misery these family members have endured," he said after a meeting at his residence in central Tokyo.