TOKYO, May 19 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he will keep pressuring North Korea to settle the unresolved issue of the abductions of Japanese nationals.
The issue dates back to the 1970s and 1980s and remains a sore point in the already tense relations between Japan and the isolated Communist country, which do not have diplomatic ties. More than a dozen Japanese nationals were reported to have been abducted. Five were returned to Japan in 2002, and the North has maintained there are no other Japanese nationals in the country.
Speaking to reporters Sunday in Fukuoka on the abduction issue, Abe said: "I hope I can promote negotiations and dialogue (with Pyongyang). I will continue pressuring North Korea as long as the abduction issue remains unresolved," Kyodo News reported.
Last week during his unannounced trip to North Korea, Isao Iijima, an adviser to Abe, was reported to have demanded the North return all the other Japanese abductees, hand over the abductors and provide a full account of the abductions.
Kyodo, quoting a government source, said North Korean officials told Iijima they would report Japan's demands to their leader, Kim Jong Un.
Abe was quoted as saying he had been briefed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga about Iijima's North Korea visit but did not disclose details.
"I am determined to achieve the return of all abductees, hunt for the truth of the abductions and secure the handover of abductors under my Cabinet," the prime minister said. "I will comprehensively resolve the issues of abduction as well as (Pyongyang's) nuclear and missile programs in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration."
The trip by Iijima surprised both the United States and South Korea as it came when Japan, the United States, South Korea and China have been talking to one another to end the North's belligerence, which worsened since the U.N. Security Council tightened sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear test in February, its third since 2006.
However, Japanese Economic Revitalization Minster Akira Amari was quoted as telling a television talk show the "extremely important" abduction issue is "separate from the interests of other countries," and Japan needs to take the initiative on the issue.