Concern is growing among Japanese diplomatic officials and others over whether human rights issues, including Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese nationals, will be discussed in detail at a U.S.-North Korea summit meeting scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
This concern has been prompted by the fact that U.S. President Donald Trump did not talk about human rights issues at a Friday meeting with Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
After the meeting with Kim on Friday, Trump said to reporters, “We did not talk about human rights, no.”
Asked whether he would discuss human rights issues at the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump gave a vague answer, saying: “Could be. Yeah. Could be. I think we probably will.”
In his State of the Union Address at the end of January, Trump focused on human rights violations in North Korea. He invited a North Korean defector to Congress, and harshly criticized the North Korean regime as a “cruel dictatorship.”
Regarding the abduction issue, Trump expressed his intention to make full efforts to achieve the return of Japanese abductees to Japan at a press conference after a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April. “Abduction is a very important issue for me because it’s very important to your prime minister,” Trump said.
“To be honest, I was surprised that Trump clearly stated that he had not talked about human rights,” a source close to Japan-U.S. diplomacy said on Saturday. “ We need to again explain to the Trump administration the importance of the abduction issue.”
Trump has given top priority to the full denuclearization of North Korea. To make progress in the process of normalizing diplomatic ties with North Korea in the future, which the United States is now discussing as a reward for Pyongyang’s denuclearization, it is crucial to improve the situation regarding North Korea’s human rights violations.
In particular, in the United States there are quite strong opinions in Congress, mostly from Democrats, about improving the human rights situation in North Korea. Given this situation, the U.S. government needs to work on the human rights issues in order to conclude treaties requiring congressional approval and promote other matters.
Abe plans to visit Washington on Thursday to meet with Trump. Preparations are also underway for Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s visit to Washington and a meeting with U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo on Wednesday. In their respective visits, they intend to again explain the importance of resolving the abduction issue.
“It’s easy to criticize Trump’s approach, but it’s an undeniable fact that he got North Korea moving to this stage,” a diplomatic source based in Washington said Saturday. “We’ll provide maximum support for encouraging Trump to work on human rights issues,” the source said.
By Seima Oki and Yujiro Okabe