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US-N. Korea summit cancellation disappoints abductees' families, A-bomb survivors

In this April 27, 2018 file photo, Shigeo Iizuka, the elder brother of a woman abducted by North Korea, speaks to reporters about the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture. (Mainichi)

TOKYO/OSAKA -- The cancellation on May 24 of the June summit between the United States and North Korea has brought disappointment to the families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea and to survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Families and survivors had hoped rapprochement between Washington and Pyongyang would help advance their long-cherished desires -- the return of their loved ones and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, respectively.

Shigeo Iizuka, the 79-year-old brother of abductee Yaeko Taguchi and representative of a group of abductees' families was disheartened. "We have asked the U.S. dozens of times (to push for the settlement of the abductee issue) but those efforts mean little if there is no opportunity" for U.S. President Donald Trump to call directly on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the abductees' return, Iizuka said. His sister was abducted in 1978 when she was 22.

In anticipation of the June 12 summit, family group members visited the United States from late April through early May to garner support from U.S. officials and break the impasse over the abduction issue. They included Takuya Yokota, 48, whose sister Megumi was taken in 1977 when she was 13, and Koichiro Iizuka, 41, one of the two children left after Taguchi's disappearance.

"We have been at the mercy of circumstances on so many occasions. We hope the abduction issue will be pursued in isolation (from other issues connected with North Korea)," Shigeo Iizuka said.

Megumi Yokota's 82-year-old mother Sakie sounded far from upbeat. "I don't know much but I assume that various background circumstances and intentions of the United States and North Korea are involved. I will keep following new developments and hope they move in a better direction," said Yokota.

Kayoko Arimoto, the 92-year-old mother of abductee Keiko, who was snatched in 1983 when she was 23, said she trusted President Trump's judgment to call off the summit. "You cannot trust North Korea, and we have to live with the cancellation. Good results may come out when the summit is held on better terms for Washington," she said.

Arimoto also requested that the Japanese government make necessary preparations for the settlement of the abductee issue as there is now more time before the summit, which she trusts will take place at some point. "I want the government to make sure it seizes the opportunity," she said.

Meanwhile in Hiroshima, atomic bomb survivors were unhappy about the news of the summit cancellation. "I feel extremely discouraged because we had big expectations," said Tomoyuki Mimaki, 76, vice chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations.

Mimaki observed that Pyongyang had been "showing sincerity bit by bit" as the country released three American citizens it had detained for some time. "I had hoped the United States, a powerful country, would adopt a more solid stance in handling the situation," he said, appearing crestfallen.

Keizaburo Toyonaga, an A-bomb survivor in Hiroshima who has provided assistance to his South Korean counterparts for years, said of the cancellation, "The decision does not take into account the expectations of Korean families who became separated because of the Korean War (1950-53). They had hoped the summit would contribute to detente" on the peninsula and in the wider region.

"I am worried that the U.S. will strengthen sanctions on the North," said Toyonaga, 82, adding, "I want President Trump to become a bit more levelheaded and make the summit happen."

Kunihiko Sakuma, 73, chairman of the other Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, said he was dismayed, but expressed hope in the possibility of dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea. "It will take time, but nuclear issues require prompt attention by Washington," Sakuma said.

Takeshi Yamakawa, 81, who heads a group in Nagasaki that opposes nuclear tests, said he feels that neither side is eager to talk, referring to North Korea's failure to invite international specialists including those from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify the demolition of its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri. "The North was acting in a way that made the U.S. suspicious," Yamakawa said, adding, "For years, we have called for the abolition of nuclear tests. As long as we can see some light, we must hope for a realization of the summit."

(Japanese original by Tomoyuki Hori, City News Department; Yuhi Sugiyama, Yokohama Bureau; Kazuki Ikeda, Osaka City News Department; and Shun Teraoka, Hiroshima Bureau)

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