WASHINGTON – Japan was expected to raise the issue of kidnapped Japanese citizens in North Korea with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she starts a visit Thursday.
Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura on Tuesday suggested that Tokyo would not want Pyongyang taken off the U.S. terrorism blacklist until the abductions were resolved.
And U.S. President George W. Bush told Japan's premier Wednesday he understands Tokyo's concern about the matter. Bush telephoned Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and told him that he "would not forget the abduction issue," said a statement from Japan's Foreign Ministry.
The 20-minute phone conversation came a day before North Korea is expected to provide a list of its nuclear activities, a process that could lead to taking Pyongyang off Washington's terrorism and sanctions blacklists in exchange for the regime giving up its nuclear weapons program.
Komura is expected to voice Tokyo's concern during talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will attend a Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting in Japan.
North Korea's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 80s is a high-profile issue here, and Tokyo has long pushed for the resolution of the abductions as a condition for providing aid and improved relations to the communist nation.
Fukuda asked Bush for continued U.S. support in solving the kidnapping issue, saying it was also important to press ahead with stalled six-nation talks on the denuclearization of North Korea, the ministry statement said.
North Korea has admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens, and has allowed five to return home, saying the other eight were dead. The abductees were apparently used to train North Korean agents in Japanese language and customs.