US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice vowed on Monday to maintain pressure on North Korea to settle cases of abducted Japanese, as the focus shifted to a possible breakthrough on nuclear disarmament.
Japan has called on the US and other countries to take concerted steps with Tokyo in an effort to make Pyongyang resolve the abduction row and abandon its nuclear ambitions.
“The United States will not set aside the abduction issue,” Rice told reporters who will travel with her later this week to Japan, South Korea and China following a visit to Berlin.
“It’s not going away for Japan. It’s not going away for the United States and we’re going to continue to press North Korea to make certain that this issue is dealt with,” Rice said when asked about the abductions.
Rice gave no specifics and State Department officials say that, under the current phase of the disarmament process, North Korea is not required to settle the fate of Japanese who were abducted during the Cold War.
“Japan is one of America’s strongest allies ... in the world,” the top US diplomat said.
“We recognize the sensitivity of this issue. It is a deep humanitarian issue. It is a wounding issue that this kind of thing could have been allowed to happen,” Rice said.
“The Japanese people can be assured that it is an issue of extreme importance for the United States,” she said.
Rice is due tomorrow in the Japanese city of Kyoto for a conference of the Group of Eight leading industrial countries as well as for bilateral talks with the Japanese that will touch on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.
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