Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged Monday that his government will, "with strong determination," make every effort to realize the return of all citizens abducted by North Korea.

Kishida's remarks came during a meeting at his office with family members of the abductees, who have recently said they would not oppose any move by Japan to lift sanctions against North Korea should Pyongyang return all abductees immediately.

Sakie Yokota, the 88-year-old mother of Megumi, who was abducted to North Korea at age 13 in the 1970s, said, "We have a little hope" that Kishida and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un can negotiate the long-standing abduction issue.

"We would like you to surely take action while you are prime minister," Yokota told Kishida at the gathering, adding that he appears to have a better chance of making progress on the matter than previous Japanese political leaders if negotiations take place with Kim.

Sakie Yokota (2nd from R), the 88-year-old mother of Megumi, who was abducted to North Korea at age 13 in the 1970s, speaks at a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the premier's office in Tokyo on March 4, 2024. (Kyodo)

Late last month, the families and supporters of the abductees compiled a policy for their future activities, also affirming that they would not object to the Japanese government providing humanitarian aid to North Korea if the victims were repatriated.

Kishida has expressed an eagerness for a summit with Kim to address the abduction issue. He met with family members just weeks after Kim's sister hinted at the possibility of a visit to Pyongyang by the Japanese prime minister.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a meeting with family members of North Korean abductees at the premier's office in Tokyo on March 4, 2024. (Kyodo)

In a statement in February carried by North Korea's state-run media, the sister said a visit could happen if Japan does not make the issue of the abductions an obstacle between the two countries, describing it as "settled."

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi has said her assertion regarding the abductions was "totally unacceptable." The government's top spokesman, who doubles as the minister in charge of the abduction issue, also participated in Monday's meeting with the families.

Kim, meanwhile, sent a message of sympathy to Kishida in early January over a deadly earthquake that hit central Japan on New Year's Day. It is very rare for a Japanese prime minister to receive a message from a North Korean leader.

While the two Asian nations have no diplomatic ties, Junichiro Koizumi became the first Japanese prime minister to make a trip to Pyongyang in 2002, leading to the return of five abductees. He revisited North Korea in 2004.

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