US envoy to the UN vows support for families of Japanese who were abducted and taken to North Korea

TOKYO — America stands with Japan until all Japanese kidnapped by North Korea decades ago return home to end their painful separation, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States ambassador to the United Nations, said Thursday in Tokyo .

Japan says North Korea kidnapped at least 17 Japanese citizens, possibly many more, in the 1970s and 1980s to train them as agents. Twelve remain missing. They include teenage students and others living along Japan’s coasts, and many were bundled into small boats and taken by sea to North Korea.

Thomas-Greenfield began her visit to Japan by meeting with the families of those abducted.

“The United States stands with all families, all of Japan and the international community in pressing for a resolution that would allow all families separated by the regime’s policies to be reunited,” she said at the outset of her meeting with five family members. of the abductees and a representative of their support group at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“I am all too familiar with the pain, loss and suffering that your family members are experiencing here,” she said. “I know how painful it is for you, and how long you have had to endure this pain.”

Thomas-Greenfield noted that she has worked on North Korea-related issues throughout her career.

“The administration of US President Joe Biden is committed to raising the kidnapping issue “at every opportunity” and calling for the return of kidnapped Japanese citizens to their families, the ambassador said, adding that America is committed to that policy regardless of leadership.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly expressed his determination and efforts to hold a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to secure the return of the abductees.

Experts say Kim wants better ties with Japan to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies, while Kishida, plagued by a major corruption scandal from his ruling party, wants to use possible progress on the kidnapping issue to reverse his declining support numbers. At home. However, they say a summit would be difficult because Japan cannot accept the conditions set by Pyongyang to resolve the kidnapping issues.

Sakie Yokota, 88, whose then 13-year-old daughter, Megumi, was kidnapped from Japan’s north coast on her way home from school in 1977, told Thomas-Greenfield that she, her husband and Megumi’s brothers searched for her for 20 years until they found out came that she had been kidnapped. They’re still waiting, she said.

“All I want is to see her while I’m still well,” Yokota said, pleading with the ambassador for continued support in resolving the problem.

Thomas-Greenfield arrived in Tokyo after her previous visit to Seoul, where she and South Korean officials discussed a new mechanism for monitoring North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Russia and China have thwarted US-led efforts to increase UN sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile tests since 2022, underscoring a deepening rift between permanent members of the Security Council over Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have deepened their security ties amid rising tensions in the region from North Korea and China. The three countries have expanded their combined military exercises and their deterrence strategies built around US strategic assets.


Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.