Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged Wednesday that his government will take every possible measure to pursue the return of all of its citizens who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kishida's remarks came during a meeting at his office with family members of the Japanese abductees, who have recently claimed that they would not oppose giving humanitarian aid to North Korea if it would lead to the victims' return.

To realize the early return of all the abductees to Japan, "We will do our utmost to tackle the issue without ruling out any options," Kishida said, reiterating he has been eager to have direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "without conditions."

At the gathering, Takuya Yokota, younger brother of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted at age 13 in 1977, urged Japan to start negotiations with North Korea to resolve the abduction issue while making efforts to build peace between the two nations.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a meeting with families of victims abducted by North Korea at his office in Tokyo on March 1, 2023. (Kyodo)  

He said if North Korea immediately returns all the abductees to Japan, Kishida's government "should be able to provide humanitarian assistance" to Pyongyang "within the limits of the sanctions imposed by the international community" on the country.

Last month, a group representing the abductees' families and its supporting entity released a new campaign policy saying humanitarian aid does not violate U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea, which has continued nuclear and ballistic missile development.

Along with the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, the group led by Takuya Yokota has kept its long-held policy of seeking the immediate return of all Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang.

The groups have said that their members will visit the United States in May to call on the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden to lend support for the realization of a summit between Japan and North Korea.

On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the top government spokesman, said Japan would not rule out the possibility of offering humanitarian assistance to North Korea if the move is judged to be effective in resolving the abduction issue.

Matsuno, who has doubled as the minister in charge of the abduction issue since October 2021, joined Wednesday's meeting.

The iconic abductee Megumi Yokota is among 17 Japanese nationals the government has officially recognized as having been abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

Following the return of five abductees to Japan in 2002, Tokyo has sought the early return of 12 others. Japan also alleges North Korea's involvement in many other disappearances.

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