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Trump pledges support for return of Japanese abducted by N. Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe meet with Japanese families of those abducted by North Korea, at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, on May 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- U.S. President Donald Trump met Monday with the families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, vowing to cooperate with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to secure their return.

"We will be working together to bring your relatives, your daughters, your sons, your mothers home," Trump said in the meeting in Tokyo, which took place after an audience with new Emperor Naruhito and a summit with Abe.

The abduction issue remains one of Japan's biggest grievances against North Korea and a major hurdle to establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries.

More than a dozen family members attended the meeting, clutching pictures of their missing kin. Among them were Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was abducted on her way home from school in 1977 at the age of 13, and Shigeo Iizuka, the brother of Yaeko Taguchi who went missing the following year at the age of 22.

Japan officially lists 17 people as confirmed victims, five of whom were repatriated in 2002, and suspects North Korea's involvement in many more disappearances.

"It's very much on my mind...their stories are very sad," Trump said.

The president also met with the families of the abductees during his previous trip to Tokyo in November 2017 and has raised the matter at two summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In the latest meeting, Sakie Yokota thanked Trump for taking their plight seriously.

"We've started to see some tangible progress toward the resolution of this issue for the first time in history," the 83-year-old said, adding, "We have the greatest trust in you, Mr. President."

Abe, who returned to power for a second term as prime minister in December 2012, has been eager to settle the issue during his time in office, but it has largely taken a back seat to denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

The denuclearization talks, meanwhile, have hit a snag, with the second summit between Trump and Kim held in February in Hanoi breaking down after a dispute over sanctions.

Earlier this month, the Japanese prime minister said he was willing to meet Kim without conditions, easing his previous stance that a guarantee of progress on the abduction issue would be a prerequisite to holding a summit.

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