Monday, October 29, 2007

Japan Warns US Over North Korea

A senior Japanese official has warned the United States that relations will suffer if Washington removes North Korea from a list of terrorist states, amid stepped up efforts to end Pyongyang's nuclear drive. Relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang remain tense in part because of the communist state's kidnappings of Japanese civilians, an issue that arouses deep emotion in Japan. "If the US moves while completely ignoring the abduction issue, you can expect that relations between Japan and the United States will not improve," Kyoko Nakayama, special adviser to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on the kidnappings, told reporters in an interview. Japan says North Korean agents abducted 17 Japanese, either from Japan or overseas, between September 1977 and July 1983 to train spies who could then pose as Japanese when infiltrating South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il admitted to the kidnappings in 2002, saying the regime had abducted 13 Japanese and allowed five to return home with their families. Pyongyang, contrary to Tokyo's belief, says the others are dead and the issue is closed. "Japan believes the eight (people) that North Korea claims as dead are still alive and are being used as translators or teachers," Nakayama said.North Korea had also kidnapped people of other nationalities, including hundreds of South Koreans, she said. "A country that does not free hostages is a terrorist state, pure and simple," she said. Japan has voiced unease since North Korea entered a six-nation deal in February to dismantle its nuclear programmes in exchange for aid and diplomatic benefits. In the latest step, Pyongyang has pledged to permanently disable its Yongbyon reactor and declare all other nuclear programmes by the end of the year. In return, North Korea wants the US to remove it from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, making it eligible for assistance from the World Bank and other international financial bodies. Former prime minister Shinzo Abe, who resigned last month, long campaigned on the abduction issue and refused Japanese aid for the six-nation nuclear accord, which was signed by China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the US. Fukuda, regarded as more moderate, has stressed that Japan needs "dialogue and pressure" with North Korea. Thomas Schieffer, US ambassador to Japan, said Washington was concerned about the abductions and that the allies "are not going to be divided over this issue"."We believe there has to be substantial progress on the abduction issue for North Korea to rejoin the mainstream of the international community. We hope that would occur," Schieffer told a news conference. Ralph Cossa, president of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said Japan and the US had a different understanding of progress. North Korea could agree to "re-examine" the abduction issue, he said, which might constitute progress for the US but not Japan. "Japan's flexibility on the issue may have increased with Abe's departure but the question is, will Pyongyang make some gesture to save face for Fukuda that both Washington and Tokyo will declare to be 'progress'," Cossa said. "Pyongyang is masterful at playing parties against one another and the abductee issue provides that opportunity to divide Washington and Tokyo, especially since Washington clearly and rightfully places much higher priority on closing down North Korea's nuclear capabilities," he said. The growing rift over North Korea comes as Fukuda prepares for his first visit to the US as prime minister, expected next month, and as struggles to persuade the opposition, which controls one house of parliament, to continue support for US-led forces in Afghanistan. The United States has warned, in turn, that a withdrawal of Japanese support would damage ties.