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Abducted: The Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea

New North Korea Abductees Policy Receives US Support in Washington

Families of abductees met high-ranking US officials who voiced support for lifting Japanese sanctions targeting North Korea upon the return of all victims.



Members of the delegation including family members of the abductees meet US Senator Bill Hagerty (center), who is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee as well as former US Ambassador to Japan, during their visit to Washington. (Posted to Senator Hagerty's X account on May 2).

On May 2, it was revealed that the US government indicated its intention to support lifting Japan's unilateral sanctions against North Korea. Under a recent policy change, Japan announced it would consider lifting the sanctions if Pyongyang immediately and collectively repatriates all abductees.

The Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea (Japanese families, or AFVKN) recently visited the United States. Joining them was the National Association for the Rescue of the Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN). Representatives of the bipartisan Parliamentary League for Early Repatriation of Japanese Citizens Kidnapped by North Korea also accompanied them. US government officials and members of Congress extended their support to this delegation.

In a press conference, Takuya Yokota (center), the brother of abductee Megumi Yokota and the representative of AFVKN, presents a photo of their mother Saki Yokota on April 30, Washington. (©Kyodo)

Explaining Japan's New Policy

From April 29 to May 2, the delegation met with high-ranking US government officials and members of Congress in Washington. These lawmakers included officials at the State Department, the Treasury Department, and the National Security Council (NSC). During their meetings, the delegation explained the new initiative the Japanese families and NARKN adopted in February.

Following the new policy, the Japanese families and NARKN would not oppose humanitarian aid or lifting Japanese sanctions against North Korea. However, Pyongyang must first swiftly repatriate all abductees while the remaining parents are still alive. Meeting with US officials, the delegation sought Washington's understanding of this new approach.

Relief from these sanctions is a new feature of Japan's policy. It would permit North Korean vessels to enter Japanese ports. Officials of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chosen Soren) would furthermore be able to travel between North Korea and Japan.

US Perspectives

Informed sources indicate that influential lawmakers and senior officials in President Joe Biden's administration expressed their understanding of the policy. They view the proposed lifting of sanctions as a legitimate and practical means to repatriate all abductees.

Sakie Yokota (88) and Akihiro Arimoto (95) are the only surviving parents of the officially recognized abductees. In 1977, Yokota's daughter Megumi was kidnapped in Japan as she walked home from school. Now 59, she was 13 at the time. Arimoto's daughter Keiko (64) was abducted when she was 23. As the delegation conveyed, transitioning to a dialogue-based approach was a challenging decision. It became urgent due to the time constraints of aging. On the US side, there were no dissenting voices or opposing views while some also empathized with their difficult position.

After returning from the United States, Takuya Yokota reports on the results of the delegation's visit before the press on May 4, afternoon, at Haneda Airport, Tokyo. He holds up a photo of his mother Sakie Yokota, one of the two surviving parents of the abductees. (©Sankei by Yuta Yasumoto)

Seeking Direct Dialogue

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is eager to arrange a high-level meeting, without conditions, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss the abduction issue. Reports suggest that Washington is open to Japan-North Korea summit talks. During these talks, the abduction issue would be addressed as a separate matter, distinct from the concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Furthermore, it is understood that the US government backs Japan's position of conditionally lifting its own unilateral sanctions. This would occur alongside humanitarian aid, contingent upon the immediate and collective repatriation of all abduction victims.


During an April 30 press conference, Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel of the State Department commented on the delegation's visit. "The US stands with the long-suffering relatives of Japanese abductees," he affirmed. "We continue to urge [North Korea] to right this historic wrong and provide full accounting of those that remain missing."


(Read the report in Japanese.)

Author: Hiroo Watanabe, The Sankei Shimbun