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Trump meeting with N. Korean official leaves questions on human rights, abductions

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, after their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump said that he "did not talk about human rights" in a June 1 meeting with senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol -- raising some concerns that the issue of North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens could be sidelined ahead of the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit.

Kim gave Trump a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the meeting.

The Japanese government is asking that Washington raise the issue of North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens at the Kim-Trump summit set for June 12 in Singapore. It is expected that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make a renewed request to Trump to bring up the issue during his meeting with the president slated for June 7, in Washington.

After his meeting with Kim Yong Chol, Trump stated, "We talked about almost everything, we talked about a lot," but said that the issue of human rights was not discussed. When asked if he would talk about human rights on June 12, he replied, "Could be. I think we probably will."

At the same time, as momentum builds toward dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang over denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, human rights and other groups have raised concerns that issues including Japanese abductees and the internment of political prisoners might be left unaddressed.

Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, is Kim Jong Un's top aide. Trump indicated that the meeting was positive, stating that what was going to be the simple delivery of a letter "ended up being a two-hour conversation with the second most powerful man in North Korea."

For many years Kim Yong Chol was the head of North Korea's intelligence agency. He is said to have orchestrated overseas operations such as the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship in 2010, and a cyberattack on Sony Pictures in 2014, and remains subject to sanctions by both the U.S. and South Korean governments.

Since Kim Yong Chol was banned from traveling further than 25 miles from New York where United Nations headquarters is located, a waiver from the U.S. government was needed for him to visit Washington following preparatory consultations with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. U.S. media reported that Trump granted a special exception.

After about 1 hour and 20 minutes in a meeting with Pompeo and others, Trump went outside with Kim Yong Chol, and shook hands with each member of the North Korean delegation, smiled and posed for a commemorative photograph. Finally, he patted Kim Yong Chol on the shoulder and ushered him into his vehicle, waving as the line of cars moved off. It is extremely rare for the president to see off a VIP from a country with which the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations, or who is not a state guest.

(Japanese original by Kota Takamoto, North American General Bureau)

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