Japan is considering sending aid to North Korea after a UN appeal following devastating floods in the impoverished nation, the new foreign minister in Tokyo said yesterday.
Nobutaka Machimura said Tokyo is "discussing whether to respond or not to respond" to an emergency international appeal for assistance.
"Nothing concrete has been decided. We are still discussing whether we will or we will not do it," Machimura told reporters.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has refused any assistance to Pyongyang under a six-nation accord on ending its nuclear drive because of a row over the communist regime's past kidnappings of Japanese civilians.
Machimura's comments came after he suggested in a media interview that he was inclined to offer help to victims of the floods, which killed hundreds of people and ravaged huge swathes of farmland.
The UN launched its US$14 million flash appeal on Tuesday to seek assistance for nearly 1 million North Koreans affected by the severe flooding.
"Given the magnitude of the disaster, we must consider if everything should be linked to the abduction issue," Machimura said in the group interview with Japanese media published on Tuesday.
"We are currently discussing it, and it's better to make a decision as soon as possible," he said of aid to North Korea, as quoted by the Nikkei Shimbun.
Machimura, a former foreign minister who was reappointed to the post on Monday, noted that in some past natural disasters, "Japan extended emergency aid regardless of the recipient's ideology and social system."
North Korea said on Saturday that at least 600 people were dead or missing following the floods, which relief agencies are calling the country's worst in the last decade.