Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left for Washington on June 6 to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump and is expected to ask the U.S. leader to raise the abduction of Japanese nationals at the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit.

Tokyo is negotiating with Washington over the contentious issue behind the scenes in the hopes that it will be discussed at the planned summit in Singapore on June 12.

The Japanese government’s position is, “Unless North Korea allows at least one of the 12 abductees (recognized by the Japanese government) to return to Japan, it cannot start negotiations with Pyongyang.”

One of Tokyo's hopes is that Abe will ask Trump to convey this policy during his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“The discussion will likely be simply, ‘Please make sure to talk about the abduction problem, because this is a matter of life or death for Japan,’” said a high-ranking official with the Abe administration, predicting what will occur at the Abe-Trump summit.

The Japanese government has advocated for the international community to pursue a policy of applying “maximum pressure” on North Korea to resolve a series of problems. However, many major countries are veering toward a policy of dialogue with the long-isolated country after the scheduling of the U.S.-North Korea summit.

Trump recently said, “I don’t even want to use the term ‘maximum pressure’ anymore.”

In a joint statement issued by Japanese, U.S. and South Korean defense ministers after their talks on June 3, the term “maximum pressure” was not included.

Abe also has started to consider holding a dialogue with North Korea as one of his options.

The prime minister strongly expressed, in a session of the Lower House Budget Committee on May 14, his intention to assess whether a Japan-North Korea summit should be held based on the results of the U.S.-North Korea summit.

“In order to resolve the abduction issue, at the end, a Japan-North Korea summit will probably be needed, while the international community’s cooperation will also be needed," he said. “We will seek the normalization of diplomatic relations with North Korea through settling the unfortunate past based on the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration (of 2002).”

Tokyo acknowledges that North Korea is seeking assurances of the maintenance of its regime as well as economic assistance.

It has hopes of winning concessions from North Korea over the issues of abduction and its nuclear and missile programs by showing its readiness to provide economic assistance while the United States would assure the continuation of the North Korean regime.

Abe is likely to ask Trump at their meeting to collaborate with Japan by expressing such a scenario when he meets with Kim.

“Though people may think that Japan is relying too heavily on the United States, realistically, that is all we can do considering the current diplomatic channels with North Korea,” said a Japanese government source.

Some Japanese government officials are worried that Trump might too readily make concessions to Kim at the summit.

Unless specific steps for the denuclearization of North Korea can be drawn up at the U.S.-North Korea summit, the abduction issue along with the danger of the country’s medium- and short-range missiles--which can target Japan--will remain far from being resolved.

North Korea returned five abductees to Japan in 2002, followed by the return of their family members to Japan in 2004.

Abe has consistently considered the resolution of the abduction issue as his key policy objective since his first administration from 2006 to 2007. However, no progress has been made on the issue since 2004.

In May 2014, Japan and North Korea reached an agreement in Stockholm in which Pyongyang promised to resume its investigation into the Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s in exchange for Tokyo lifting some of its economic sanctions.

But North Korea abruptly called off the reinvestigation in 2016. The Japanese government maintains that 12 unaccounted-for abductees remain, to which Pyongyang has replied, “Eight abductees have died and four never entered North Korea.”