WASHINGTON – The brother of one of the Japanese nationals who was abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s and a former Japanese minister in charge of the abduction issue said Wednesday they have requested that the United States relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
“I hope the U.S. government will put (North Korea) back on the state sponsor of terrorism list” as part of an effort to increase pressure on the leadership of Kim Jong Un, Takuya Yokota told reporters in Washington following a series of meetings with U.S. officials and lawmakers.
“A soft approach does not work when we negotiate with North Korea,” said Yokota, secretary general of the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, adding that “pressure is the only way to solve” the abduction issue.
Yokota’s older sister, Megumi, was taken from Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast while on her way home from school in 1977 when she was 17.
Speaking alongside Yokota, former abduction minister Eriko Yamatani quoted Matt Pottinger, senior director for Asia at the U.S. National Security Council, as saying President Donald Trump’s administration is actively considering relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Pottinger said the administration would like to take into account the abduction issue when discussing the potential relisting, according to Yamatani, a House of Councilors member from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.
The U.S. official reportedly said that Trump is familiar with the abduction issue, including the case of Megumi Yokota, because Abe briefed the president on it during talks, and that Trump had instructed Pottinger to study North Korea’s human rights violations.
During a series of talks with officials at the White House, the State and Defense departments, and members of Congress, the two sides agreed to step up coordination in addressing North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues, as well as the abduction and human rights violation issues, according to Yamatani.
Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances. While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang maintains that eight — including Megumi Yokota — have died and the other four never entered the country.
The Trump administration is considering putting North Korea back on the terror list in the wake of the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of leader Kim Jong Un, in Malaysia in February.
The designation was lifted in October 2008 under the administration of then-President George W. Bush as a result of progress in negotiations for North Korea’s denuclearization.