Sat, Dec 18, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Japanese sanctions are `likely option'

UNCERTAIN RESPONSE Public pressure in Japan is mounting for leaders to impose sanctions on North Korea in response to the deaths of kidnapped Japanese citizens decades ago, but North Korea would consider sanctions `a declaration of war'

AP , IBUSUKI, JAPAN

Japan's prime minister met Friday with South Korea's president, as Tokyo faced mounting pressure from the public to impose sanctions on North Korea for failing to fully account for Japanese citizens it kidnapped decades ago.

But the Seoul government opposes such sanctions on the North, fearing that they could set back six-nation talks aimed at persuading the isolated communist nation to scrap its nuclear weapons programs.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun held two hours of discussions in Ibusuki, on Japan's southernmost island of Kyushu, focusing on trade and the standoff over North Korea's nuclear programs.

The two leaders planned to stress they both want North Korea to resume dialogue and abandon its nuclear ambitions. However, Koizumi faces calls from the Japanese public to get tough with North Korea over the kidnappings issue.

Pyongyang has admitted to abducting 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s, and has returned five of them but says the eight others are dead.

It handed over human remains it claims belong to two victims, only for forensic tests to show they were someone else's.

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said Thursday that economic sanctions are a ``likely option.'' But he did not specify when Japan would apply sanctions or what the penalties would be, possibly wary of Pyongyang's warning this week that it would consider sanctions by Japan ``a declaration of war.''

Three rounds of the so-called ``six-nation'' talks -- involving the United States, China, Russia, the two Koreas, and Japan -- aimed at defusing the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula haven't led to much progress.

North Korea insists on receiving economic aid and security guarantees in return for ending its nuclear weapons program.

So far, it is refusing to attend future multilateral meetings unless Washington abandons its ``hostile'' policy toward the communist state.

Roh's administration favors concessions and dialogue over sanctions to lure Pyongyang back to the six-nation talks. But he said if North Korea deliberately gave Japan the wrong remains, he can understand Japanese sanctions.

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