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Politics

Top Abe aide to meet with Pence on North Korean abductions

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga will raise Okinawa base issue during rare US visit

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils "Reiwa" as the new era name at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on April 1.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- One of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's closest aides is expected to discuss North Korea's past kidnappings of Japanese nationals and the relocation of an American air base in Okinawa when he visits Washington next month to meet with officials including Vice President Mike Pence.

"As the minister in charge of the abduction issue and reducing Okinawa's burden of hosting the base, I'm committed to performing my duties thoroughly," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Thursday, announcing his May 9-12 trip to the U.S.

The chief cabinet secretary, tasked with crisis management at the prime minister's office, rarely makes overseas trips. This will be Suga's first in over three years.

In Washington, Suga is expected to ask for stepped-up pressure on Pyongyang. U.S. President Donald Trump raised the abduction issue twice at his February summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In New York, Suga will speak at the United Nations at a Japanese-sponsored symposium on the abductions. "I will call on the international community for cooperation toward an early resolution of the issue," he said.

Suga will likely seek to coordinate with Washington on the base move within Okinawa Prefecture that has run into staunch local opposition. He said he will "confirm that the U.S. military reorganization will directly lead to reducing Okinawa's base-hosting burden."

Japan says 17 of its citizens were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s. Five were returned in 2002, and Tokyo rejects Pyongyang's claims that the rest have died or never entered North Korea.

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