Japan wants U.S. to get abductees if N. Korea faces internal conflict

Japan intends to seek U.S. assistance in rescuing Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the past in case North Korea falls into internal conflict, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday.

"It's extremely important that we seek support from the United States, our ally," Abe told the House of Councillors Budget Committee. "We've provided information on Japanese abductees (to the U.S. side), while seeking support when necessary."

Abe also underlined the limitations of Japan's current security framework, long bound by Article 9 of the U.S.-drafted Constitution that forbids the use of force to settle international disputes and only allows the minimum for self-defense.

"To send in a special unit of the Self-Defense Forces to help get (the abductees) out of the country would be difficult due to the constraints of Article 9," Abe said.

Abe has pledged to resolve while he is in office the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Japan and North Korea held informal talks in China earlier in the week, raising hope formal negotiations between the two could be held for the first time since November 2012.

"Whatever the situation may be, we will do all we can to protect the lives of all abductees by cooperating with the international community," Abe told the committee.

Abe is eager to rework Japan's defense posture to cope with challenges from an assertive China and North Korea's nuclear and missile development, and lift a self-imposed ban on the right of collective self-defense by changing the constitutional interpretation.

To what extent the SDF should be allowed to operate overseas has been a sensitive issue in Japan, and Abe's goal to remove the ban still faces hurdles as the New Komeito party, the junior coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, remains cautious about it.

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan once expressed willingness to craft a plan in 2010 to rescue Japanese abductees and dispatch SDF members in the event of contingencies on the Korean Peninsula.

If the ban is removed on collective self-defense, Japan needs to create a new legal framework by revising a series of laws, including on SDF operations.

Abe has indicated Japan can inspect ships heading for North Korea when the United States has been attacked by the country, citing as one of the scenarios discussed by a government panel of security experts who are expected to submit their proposals in April.