Japan PM to NKorea: Release Japanese abductees or no aid

TOKYO — Japan's prime minister on Friday warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that Japan will not provide major economic assistance unless the North resolves the issue of Japanese citizens it abducted decades ago.

Shinzo Abe said in a televised interview that Kim should understand that agreements with the United States and South Korea on better relations and denuclearization are not enough to win Japanese aid, and that the abductees must be released.

"The key is for the North Korean leader to decide," Abe told the Fuji Television network. "It is extremely important for North Korea to normalize diplomatic relations with Japan to walk along the right track as part of international society, while accepting its requirements."

Japan says North Korea abducted at least 17 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train agents in Japanese culture and language to spy on South Korea. After decades of denial, North Korea in 2002 acknowledged abducting 13 of them and allowed five to visit Japan, where they stayed. The North says eight others died, but Japanese officials and their families say that cannot be trusted.

Abe said he is open to holding talks with Kim only when that would lead to a settlement of the abduction issue. "I will not just sit and talk for nothing," he said. "There is no way we will provide major economic assistance without resolving the abduction issue."

U.S. President Donald Trump is to meet Kim on June 12 in Singapore.

Abe also said international sanctions should remain in place against North Korea and any rewards must wait until Kim fully abandons his nuclear and missile programs. He said past efforts to denuclearize North Korea had failed because of hasty rewards and the same mistakes should not be repeated.

Abe praised Kim for his recent "dynamic" moves, citing his two trips to China in a matter of weeks and his deciding to hold talks with Trump.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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