President Barack Obama met Thursday with the relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s as part of a show of solidarity with Japan.
The White House said Obama was "moved by their tragic experiences and reaffirmed our commitment to work with Japan to address North Korea's deplorable treatment of its own people and resolve the issue of abductees."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has prioritized solving the abduction issue and Japanese media -- which first reported the meeting -- said Washington accepted Tokyo's request for the meeting "not only to back Abe's effort," but to demonstrate to North Korea that the U.S. and Japan are united in opposition to the isolated country's nuclear weapons program.
The newspapers said Shigeru Yokota and his wife, Sakie, whose daughter, Megumi, was abducted by North Korean agents decades ago, and Shigeo Iizuka, head of a group of abduction victim families, are among those who were to meet with Obama.
According to the Japan Times, Abe's government wants the U.S. to get involved in efforts to resolve the long-standing issue. Japan officially lists 17 people as abduction victims from the 1970s and 1980s, the newspaper said, "but suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances as well."
Former president George W. Bush met with families in 2006 in the Oval Office, saying that "if North Korea expects to be respected in the world, that county must respect human rights and human dignity and must allow this mother to hug her child again."