While most international relations are a matter of complex and nuanced interactions taking place between any number of people both in the public eye and behind closed doors, the formal relationship between the United States and North Korea in recent months has been dictated almost entirely by statements made to the media, rather than the whispered diplomacy.

Both President Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un have repeatedly indicated that there is little hope for a diplomatic solution to rising tensions between the two nations, despite American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson continuing to pursue new channels for negotiation.  Trump seems certain that Kim will not be willing to negotiate for the removal of his newfound nuclear status, and, in Trump’s defense, Kim’s statements have clearly supported that position.

However, new remarks made by the American president during his Pacific tour that has placed a clear emphasis on the North Korean dilemma, may indicate an opportunity for the two nations to come a bit closer together.  In a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump called on North Korea to release a number of Japanese citizens that had been taken hostage by North Korea some two decades ago.

“I think it would be a tremendous signal if Kim Jong Un would send them back,” Trump said.  “That would be the start of something I think would be just something very special if they would do that.”

The president met with the families of some of the abducted Japanese citizens during his stop in Tokyo, including some that have waited decades for any word regarding the condition of their loved ones.  In his remarks, the president drew comparisons to the recently released American captive, Otto Warmbier, who was returned to America in a vegetative state and died only days after making it home.

“No parent should ever have to endure 40 years of heartbreak. We also had a young wonderful man in our country,” Trump said at the news conference. “We all know the story about him. It’s a horrible story. It’s a sad story and we can’t let that happen.”

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According to Japanese officials, they can confirm the identities of 17 Japanese citizens that have been abducted by the North Korean government, though they believe the real figure is more than 100.  Kim Jong Il, father and predecessor to current Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, admitted and even apologized for 13 of the kidnappings more than a decade ago.  Five of the abductees were permitted to return home in 2002, though as many as 15 more Japanese citizens are said to have been kidnapped since the year 2000 alone.

“As long as 40 years there are those that have been suffering because of the loss of loved ones as well as their family members,” Abe said Monday. “I renew my determination to my utmost to realize the day when those family members can hold daughters and sons with their own arms.”

Of course, even if North Korea did choose to release these Japanese citizens, it wouldn’t resolve the outstanding issue between the reclusive nation and the United States.  President Trump is unlikely to accept any conclusion that doesn’t include a complete removal of Kim’s nuclear arsenal, as Defense Secretary James Mattis has indicated multiple times.  Conversely, Kim seems to believe nuclear weapons are the key to ushering in a new era of international negotiation and, in turn, economic stability for his country, meaning it is unlikely that he’ll relinquish them willingly.

It also seems unlikely that North Korea will bow to the new pressure by President Trump regarding these prisoners, as the issue has been a tense subject between North Korea and Japan for decades already, with very little progress being made since 2002.  Despite this, the fact that President Trump would suggest an opportunity for North Korea to provide such a good will gesture could indicate that the president himself may be warming to the idea of diplomacy with the aggressive state.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press