PALM BEACH, UNITED STATES (AFP) - US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday (April 18) he would work to help Tokyo bring home from North Korea Japanese citizens who were abducted in the 1970s and 1980s to help Pyongyang train its spies.
Mr Trump, who was addressing reporters with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his side, said: "We will work very hard on that issue and we will work hard to try and bring those folks back - very, very hard."
The issue sours already strained relations between Japan and North Korea, and Mr Abe often wears a blue ribbon to remind himself of their abduction.
As he headed to the United States earlier this week, the Japanese Premier said the abduction issue would be high on his agenda - and at Wednesday's press conference, he thanked Mr Trump profusely for his support on the matter.
In 2002, North Korea admitted to the kidnapping of 13 Japanese civilians, dating back to the 1970s, but Tokyo believes the true number to be higher.
The Japanese government has officially listed 17 people as abductees, but there are strong suspicions that dozens more citizens were snatched to train Pyongyang's spies in the Japanese language and culture.
Japanese police have said there are 800 missing people for whom the possibility of being kidnapped by the hermit state cannot be ruled out.
Under an agreement brokered in Stockholm in May 2014, North Korea undertook to re-investigate all abductions of Japanese citizens in what appeared to be a significant breakthrough.
But there has been almost no progress since then, as relations between the North and the international community deteriorated amid a protracted crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.