- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009


The fate of a 13-year-old Japanese girl kidnapped by North Korean agents will certainly move President-elect Barack Obama when he devises his policy toward North Korea, the U.S. ambassador in Tokyo said Wednesday.

Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer, who will be leaving his post after the new administration takes office, said he will advise Mr. Obama’s foreign policy aides to support Japan in its demand that North Korea give a full account of all Japanese kidnapped during the 1970s and 1980s.

The secretive, communist nation abducted Japanese to train them as spies but returned five of the victims in 2002. North Korea claimed that others died during their captivity, including Megumi Yokota, who was 13 at the time North Korean agents snatched her off a beach in 1977.

“I am confident that when he thinks about it, President Obama will understand the issue,” Mr. Schieffer said in an interview in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

“You are looking at a new president who has young daughters, and you cannot hear Megumi’s story without thinking about your own children and what you would feel if someone took away your child from your home.”

Kyoko Nakayama, an aide to Prime Minister Taro Aso, added that he was assured that the Obama administration will be well informed on the abduction case.

“I was briefed that the next administration will be fully aware of the importance of the abduction issue and continue making efforts toward its resolution,” he said after meeting with Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea.

In another development, the Kyodo News agency reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton, nominated to become secretary of state, will replace Mr. Hill with Harvard professor Kurt Campbell, who has criticized the Bush administration for scaling “back its engagement, notably in Asia.”


Those who know the Middle East well often say one cannot be too pessimistic about its fate. But a former French foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, sees hope in the arrival of Barack Obama as president.

Mr. Vedrine, who famously called the United States a “hyperpower” a decade ago to describe U.S. clout in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, has written a book, “History Strikes Back,” that describes the gradual weakening of U.S. power in a multipolar world.

Nevertheless, Mr. Vedrine, speaking Tuesday night at the residence of French Ambassador Pierre Vimont, said “contrary to what some say, it’s not impossible” to reach a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, even after the current carnage in Gaza.

“If we have an Israeli prime minister who is courageous and a determined U.S. president who will guarantee Israel’s security, we will be able to get out of this impasse,” he told an audience including Barbara Slavin, The Washington Times’ assistant managing editor for world and national security news.


Rumors have been swirling in Washington that Richard Haass, a former senior official in the administrations of both George H.W. Bush and his son, is planning a return engagement in a Democratic White House as special envoy for Arab-Israeli negotiations.

Chris Nelson, author of the Nelson Report, an e-mail newsletter, spread the gossip on Monday. But Mr. Haass, comfortably ensconced in New York as president of the elite Council on Foreign Relations, says it isn’t so.

“As for how/why all this is swirling, beats me,” he told The Times in e-mail.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.

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