WASHINGTON – After what he called one of the most moving meetings he has had during his presidency, U.S. President George W. Bush promised Friday to press North Korea to return abductees and respect human rights.
“I assure you the United States of America strongly respects human rights,” Bush said in his remarks after a 30-minute meeting at the White House with a group of visitors, including abductee Megumi Yokota’s mother and brother.
“We strongly will work for freedom, so that the people of North Korea can raise their children in a world that’s free and hopeful, and so that moms will never again have to worry about an abducted daughter,” Bush said as Sakie Yokota, 70, looked on.
Sakie and her son, Takuya, 37, met Bush in the Oval Office along with a family of four North Korean defectors who fled to South Korea four years ago via the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang, China.
“I have just had one of the most moving meetings since I’ve been the president,” Bush said of the talks.
In the meeting, the Yokotas showed Bush pictures of Megumi, who was abducted by North Korean agents at the age of 13 in 1977, along with letters expressing their gratitude for the concern the president and the American public have shown for the abduction issue.
“It is hard to believe that a country would foster abduction. It’s hard for Americans to imagine that a leader of any country would encourage the abduction of a young child,” Bush said about the North Korean regime and its leader, Kim Jong Il.
Wearing a blue badge on his suit lapel to express solidarity with the families, Bush called on Pyongyang to return abductees, saying, “If North Korea expects to be respected in the world, that country must respect human rights and human dignity and must allow this mother to hug her child again.”
In her press conference later Friday, Sakie Yokota expressed her hope that the U.S. president’s first meeting with an abductee’s family would encourage other world leaders to unite in pressuring North Korea to resolve the issue.
“I thanked the president for sharing time with us in his busy schedule. He said he was never too busy to find time to talk about human dignity and freedom. I really wish leaders of all countries would share that thought,” Yokota said.
During the meeting, Bush told the Yokotas to have faith as they pursue their activities to free the abductees and promised his solidarity with them toward the goal of rescuing them, according to Yokota.
Yokota and other members of the Japanese delegation held the press conference to wrap up their five-day trip to Washington to call for more attention by the U.S. government and public on the abduction issue.
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On Thursday, Yokota and others testified in a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing about the abduction issue. They also met high-ranking government officials and lawmakers, including Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde.
House of Representatives member Keiji Furuya, who attended the press conference as director general of the parliamentarian group on the abduction issue, said the Yokotas’ meeting with Bush would move the abduction issue into a new phase.
“Chances are that it (the abduction issue) will be higher than ever on agendas in various international meetings,” Furuya said.
Furuya, an independent lawmaker, said he would meet Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe on Monday to call for a government effort to put the abduction issue on the agenda of the Group of Eight major nations’ summit meeting in Russia this summer.
(c) 2006, The Yomiuri Shimbun.
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