Beijing Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi finished a one-day trip Saturday to North Korea with a diplomatic victory, arranging to bring home five family members of Japanese citizens who had been kidnapped by the North Korean regime years ago.
The five North Korean-born children of the abductees were flown to Japan almost immediately, but left behind were Charles Jenkins, the American husband of another former abductee, and their two children. Jenkins allegedly deserted the U.S. Army and would face charges if he landed in Japan.
In exchange for the family members, Japan agreed to provide North Korea 250,000 tons of food aid and $10 million worth of medical supplies and other humanitarian aid.
The scenario of Japan's leader negotiating for the release of the children of its kidnapped citizens represented the latest diplomatic effort to coax and coerce the belligerent, paranoid regime of Kim Jong Il to engage the outside world.
North Korea, which is desperately poor while maintaining a powerful military, continues to hold the world at bay with its nuclear weapons programs. Koizumi said he tried to explain to Kim during their 90-minute meeting that his regime would be better off if he broke his pattern of brinkmanship and tried cooperation.
Koizumi said North Korea pledged to continue a moratorium on missile tests, but there was no breakthrough in persuading Kim to abandon his nuclear ambitions.
"I emphasized strongly to Kim Jong Il that there is very little to gain in terms of energy aid or food aid by possessing nuclear weapons," Koizumi told reporters in Pyongyang. "But if you abandon nuclear weapons, you can gain the international community's cooperation."
Japan is working closely with the United States, China, South Korea and Russia to pressure North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and other incentives. The abduction issue represented one of the biggest stumbling blocks to Japan's efforts to offer North Korea diplomatic recognition, but Tokyo has made clear it will hold back on those negotiations unless there is progress on the nuclear issue.
North Korea abducted at least 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to use as spy trainers.
Progress under way
Kim stunned Japan in 2002 by allowing Koizumi to visit Pyongyang for a day and then acknowledging that his agents had abducted the Japanese. He said that eight of the missing had died, but he allowed the five survivors to return to Japan for a visit.
They all decided to stay permanently, and the children they left behind in North Korea became an emotional issue. Koizumi was expected to bring home five of the children, ages 16 to 22, but it was unlikely that Jenkins and his children would leave because of the charges he faces. The United States refused to bow to Japanese pressure that it grant him amnesty.
Jenkins is accused of desertion. He disappeared along the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea in 1965 and subsequently appeared in North Korean propaganda announcements. The details of his disappearance have never been cleared up.