Ship ban could hurt talks with North: Abe

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Masatoshi Abe, senior vice foreign minister, cautioned the government Thursday against invoking proposed legislation to ban North Korean ships from entering Japan.

The legislation, which on Thursday cleared the House of Representatives, is expected to be approved by the full Diet before the session is adjourned later this month.

“If we resort to pressure, negotiations may not go well,” Abe told a regular news conference. “Having a trusting relationship in negotiations is important for talks to make progress.”

Abe refused to comment on whether North Korea is violating the Pyongyang Declaration, which requires both Japan and North Korea to comply with international agreements related to Pyongyang’s nuclear development.

“The status quo is not satisfactory for us,” he said. “But it is also not the time to give marks. (The judgment) is up to what will happen in the future.”

The declaration was signed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during their first summit in Pyongyang in September 2002.

During his second visit to Pyongyang last month, Koizumi said Japan will not impose sanctions on North Korea as long as the country complies with the declaration’s provisions.

But hardliners on North Korean issues within Koizumi’s own Liberal Democratic Party have said the government should step up its pressure on Pyongyang to make progress on the Japanese abductee issue.

Pyongyang off agenda

Japan will not ask its Group of Eight partners during an upcoming summit to include in the chairman’s summary a specific call on Pyongyang to resolve the abduction issue, according to government sources.

On Wednesday, the sources said that the G8 members might lobby North Korea through a more indirect expression, such as asking it to address “various outstanding issues.”

The summary document will be issued at the end of the three-day summit on Sea Island, Ga., beginning Tuesday.

Japan’s softer stance on the matter is tied to the progress made when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on May 22 in Pyongyang.

“We have created an environment where the two countries can move negotiations forward without (Japan) using international pressure” on the North, a government source said.

In last year’s summit in Evian, France, the G8 members cited North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese nationals in the chairman’s statement — at Japan’s behest.

It was the first time for the leaders of G8 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — to allude specifically to the abduction issue in any of their statements.

With the softer approach likely to be opposed by a group of abductees’ family members and some ruling party lawmakers, however, the government will make a final decision on how it would like the matter raised in the statement after consulting with the U.S., which is hosting the summit.