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Japan to forgo submitting N. Korean human rights motion to UN panel

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan has decided not to submit a draft joint resolution condemning North Korea's human rights abuses to a U.N. panel for the first time since 2007 in the hope of bringing the reclusive state to the negotiating table over the issue of its past abductions of Japanese nationals, Japanese government sources said Tuesday.

    Tokyo has presented such a motion to the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council jointly with the European Union for 11 years in a row through 2018.

    The decision reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's desire to settle the abduction issue, which he has made one of the top priorities of his administration, according to the sources.

    Abe, having led the campaign with U.S. President Donald Trump to put "maximum pressure" on Pyongyang, began to stress the need to seize every opportunity to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to break the impasse over the abductions by the North in the 1970s and 1980s after the Trump-Kim summit last month in Hanoi ended without any agreement.

    Trump has said he raised the abduction issue in the meeting with Kim, but the official newspaper of North Korea's Workers' Party slammed Abe for asking the U.S. president to take up the issue.

    Japan will still maintain economic sanctions based on U.N. Security Council resolutions imposed over the North's nuclear and missile programs, the sources said.

    The Foreign Ministry has told senior lawmakers of the ruling bloc of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its partner the Komeito party that Tokyo's softer position on Pyongyang at the U.N. committee would signal its intention to resume bilateral talks, especially when the North has shown signs of nervousness about international criticism over human rights issues, the sources said.

    Abe's government hopes to alleviate concerns among ruling bloc members and conservative supporters over the softening of its policy by stressing its resolve to make progress on the long-standing issue, they said.

    It is highly likely that the European Union will submit a resolution unilaterally during the ongoing ordinary session of the panel, which opened Feb. 25 and is expected to continue for about a month.

    In a meeting with Abe on Tuesday, Yasushi Chimura, 63, who was repatriated in 2002 along with his wife after both were abducted in 1978, urged the prime minister to settle the issue through direct talks.

    Tokyo officially recognizes 17 citizens as having been kidnapped by North Korea and suspects the country's involvement in many more disappearances.

    Among them, five including the Chimuras returned to Japan in 2002 after then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi held talks with Kim's father Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang earlier that year. Abe then accompanied Koizumi as deputy chief Cabinet secretary.

    But Pyongyang claims that eight of the 17 abductees have died and the other four never set foot on the country.

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