Japan will call for UN economic sanctions against North Korea if it conducts an atomic test, a top Japanese ruling party official said yesterday, after the communist nation claimed it was taking steps to produce more plutonium for nuclear weapons.
Shinzo Abe, secretary-general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said that Japan faces the greatest threat of any nation if North Korea is armed with nuclear weapons.
"If North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons becomes definite and [the North] conducts nuclear testing, for instance, Japan will naturally bring the issue to the UN and call for sanctions against North Korea," he told Asahi TV.
"It is unthinkable not to impose any sanctions in case of a nuclear testing," he said.
US officials said last week that spy satellites looking at the North's northeastern Kilju saw tunnel digging and the construction of a reviewing stand -- possible indications of an upcoming test.
North Korea also raised the stakes in the dispute last week by claiming that it was taking steps that would enable it to harvest more plutonium for nuclear weapons and would bolster its arsenal.
A ministry spokesman said the country had removed 8,000 fuel rods from the reactor at its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 80km north of Pyongyang. If reprocessed, the rods could, after several months, yield enough plutonium for a couple of nuclear bombs, South Korean media reported. The North claimed in February to have nuclear weapons, and the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said recently that the country previously had enough plutonium for up to six nuclear bombs.
Pyongyang has withdrawn from six-nation talks that also involved South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the US. Japan and other participants have been frustrated in efforts to bring back North Korean to the negotiating table, and Tokyo recently proposed a possible five-way talks if the North keeps boycotting the talks.
Abe said he believed North Korea's recent indication about its nuclear arms capability is largely an attempt to gain a reward in exchange for its return to negotiations.
"We cannot ignore the threats so we try to bring North Korea back to the dialogue, and when they return to the table we might even have to consider a reward," Abe said.
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