Joint Press Conference with Abductee Representatives

Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer
Hotel Niigata, Niigata

March 16, 2006

This event was held in both English and Japanese, and the Japanese sections have been translated. See the full Japanese version of the transcript here.

SHIGERU YOKOTA: Earlier today, we walked from the gate at Yorii Junior High School, from where Megumi set off on her way home, to the corner near our house where the police dogs lost track of her scent. Afterward, we went to where our old house was, and then we visited the seashore. The ambassador did not visit Niigata at our behest; he met with us shortly after assuming office and told us that he wanted to see the abduction site with his own eyes. This has come to pass today, and we are extremely grateful. The ambassador will share his thoughts with us later, but I would just add that while he was already fully aware of the nature of this problem, he noted that actually inspecting the abduction site made him feel things that could not be gleaned from reading about it.

He informed us that he had spoken of this matter with President Bush previously, that he would tell the president about this trip to Niigata, and that he believed the president would completely understand the situation. The ambassador also said that as long as he serves in his current position, he will put his efforts into realizing a solution to the abduction issue, and he said that the United States would always raise the abduction issue whenever it talks with North Korea about anything. While there are a number of difficult issues between the United States and North Korea, the ambassador said that he was strongly aware that the abduction issue must be completely resolved. In this sense, his being here today represents strong pressure on North Korea to seek a grand solution, and I believe that when this is reported, it will provide a major impetus to a resolution of the abduction issue. We are very grateful that he came here today.

TERUAKI MASUMOTO: At present, the United States is the only country that North Korea will treat as a negotiating partner. Looking at the situation in the US government, the US ambassador to Japan, Ambassador Schieffer, has come here today to inspect the site where Megumi was abducted, and the US government and the ambassador are keenly interested in this issue. The ambassador stated that there can be no comprehensive resolution with North Korea without a solution to the abduction issue, and I think that these words will reach Kim Jong-il. By making clear that the US government itself views the abduction issue as a major concern, it may be possible to get Kim Jong-il to change his way of thinking in the direction of quickly returning the victims, and I think that this visit may help in that regard. We are very grateful.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I have visited with the Yokota family, as well as other abductee families in Tokyo, and I offered to come to Niigata to see the abduction site of the Yokotas' daughter. I'm so glad that I came today, because I don't think anyone that could walk the streets as I did this morning could not be touched and affected by what happened. I believe this is the saddest - one of the saddest, if not the saddest - stories I've ever heard. To think that a young child could be coming home from school one evening and to then be gone and not know what had happened to her for decades is just beyond belief. It's something that is so awful that you just can't imagine it, and yet I could feel it today here in the streets of Niigata. And to see these victims and the families of these victims and to imagine what must have happened to them over their lives of almost 30 years now, and the torture and the torment that they have gone through in all this period of time, whether it was Sato-san, who was her companion that evening and walked with her and must have thought a thousand times, "Why was it her and not me?" Whether it was her parents searching for her when she was missing, her mother walking in those woods trying to find some sign of her, her father wondering whether she had been kidnapped or would be held for ransom or called - those are all things that just touch you. And they are things that would touch any American that would walk as I did on the streets of Niigata today.

I have discussed this issue with the President in the past, and I intend to discuss it with him again when we meet again. I have known the President for many, many years, and I know his character and I know his conscience, and I know that they would both be touched by this story, and I intend to discuss it with him when I see him again.

QUESTION: I am Takashimizu of NTV's "The Wide." As you walked along the abduction site, what was your strongest impression, and what do you think is most important to resolve this sad affair?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Well, I was told repeatedly that the Yokotas are growing old, and that the family members of these other abductees are growing old, and the worry that this would be unresolved. But I think the thought that occurred to me is that justice does not grow old, and this is a matter of immense injustice, and it must be resolved. It just cannot be allowed to stand, because it is opposed to everything that civilized society believes in. You just cannot have governments preying upon innocents and taking the citizens of one country and the children of one country to another. It's just morally wrong, and we must do everything we can to see that it doesn't happen again and that those who perpetrated this injustice are finally brought to justice.

QUESTION: I'm Okada from TV-Niigata. This is a question for Shigeru and Sakie Yokota. You came here to Niigata in March nine years ago and got the governor at the time to put the first signature on the petition. I remember this as the start of the rescue movement. What do you think about the fact that the US ambassador has visited the site nine years later, and that the abduction issue has become a global concern? Additionally, I would like to ask how you feel today about the fact that the situation remains unresolved even after nine years.

SHIGERU YOKOTA: We greatly appreciate the efforts the people of Niigata have made. At the beginning, there was a time when even though we were collecting signatures, most people didn't even turn their heads. But in Niigata, people lined up to sign. Later, members of prefectural assemblies formed caucuses for the purpose of rescuing the victims, and Niigata was the first prefecture to do so. Then the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea took root around the country. It started here in Niigata. As Megumi was the only one we knew of at first, the Association to Rescue Megumi developed into the Association of the Families of Victims Abducted by North Korea, and now there is the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea. The momentum spread across the country, but the people of Niigata have always had the greatest interest in our issue and have done their best for us. And when we held a photo exhibit, some 25,000 people came to see it. I would once again like to offer my appreciation for all the support.

SAKIE YOKOTA: I would like to express my gratitude for today. I deeply appreciate being able to meet with Ambassador Schieffer. When I speak in public, I often mention the time I went to Geneva and met with Mr. de Mello. I have also been able to speak of this issue with various Americans, including former Ambassador Baker and Mr. Armitage. I don't know whether it would be the Japanese people as a whole or the Japanese government, but it is exactly as Ambassador Schieffer has said, that this is about justice and that we must stand up. I have long sensed a difference between our two countries in terms of commitment and conviction. As he has said, we must stand against evil and unforgivable acts and fight because we are their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, and relatives, and because we are human beings. We have continued this fight, and we have struck a chord with a great many people. Japan has finally come to see how important justice is, how precious human life is, and that this wrong cannot be allowed to stand no matter how many years it takes. It has taken the country a long time to come around to this, but I feel that we have done an extremely important job. I don't care about what happens to me, and I could go to heaven satisfied with what I have done, and while hoping for the best, I want to continue my efforts to the end - until all of those taken come back alive and well. I appreciate the statements today by Ambassador Schieffer from the bottom of my heart.

QUESTION: I'm Otsuka from Fuji-TV. This is a question for the ambassador. You said that you would report directly to the president about your visit. What will you tell him? And as ambassador, what can you do in the future to assist the Yokotas? For example, would you make arrangements so that they can meet the president or speak with him on the telephone? What sort of specifics are you considering?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Well, as I said, the President and I have talked about this before, but I must tell you that this was just even more moving and emotional than I expected it to be this morning, and I just want to convey to him that sense of the deep wrong that has been done here. And I know what his response is going to be. He is a person that just does not believe that this sort of thing should be allowed to happen.

Let me just add one other thing with regard to the Japanese government, and I feel that I just must make everyone aware of this. And I discussed this with the families, as well, in our meeting. The subject of North Korea comes up often in my dealings with members of the Japanese government. Every time that I have discussed North Korea with a Japanese official - every time - the issue of the abductees has come up. And I certainly understood the depth of feeling on the side of Japanese officials when they discuss this matter. But having walked the streets this morning, now I understand why they feel so deeply about it and why it is such a point of contention with the Japanese.

QUESTION: I'm from the Niigata Nippo. This is a question for Mrs. Yokota. You're going to testify before the US Congress next month. Including what has taken place today, what would you like to tell the world? How do you feel ahead of this trip?

SAKIE YOKOTA: This is an extremely important matter, so I think that is an important place in which to address it. And though I'm not confident as to how much of it I can explain there, here in Japan we have long spoken at every type of location about the pain and sorrow that we have experienced, as well as the unfairness and the sad lives inflicted on our children, those many Japanese who were taken away. While speaking frankly about these things in the same manner as I have done in Japan, I also hope to touch on the type of country that North Korea is. We did not really know before, but we can now see that this country is engaged in counterfeiting and narcotics trafficking - the world is just now coming to realize that this country is involved in anything and everything evil. In order for all of humanity and the people of the world to be at peace, everyone must point out when evil is being done, condemn it, and get the offender to have a change of heart. This is the only way, and it is necessary for the whole world to make this case. We must speak out, and I will make this case through what has happened to Megumi.