Machimura takes hard line on abductions

by Kanako Takahara

Japan will not resume normalization talks with North Korea unless it provides a “sincere response” to calls for further information on the fate of 10 missing Japanese, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said Tuesday.

Machimura said conditions for the resumption of normalization talks are far from ripe due to Pyongyang’s poor explanation about the matter during working-level talks in Beijing over the weekend.

“We should not leave the matter unsettled, and start normalization talks in a hurry,” said the 59-year-old Machimura, who was appointed foreign minister Monday and had earlier served as parliamentary vice foreign minister.

He said North Korean officials directly involved in the fresh probe into the missing Japanese should attend the next round of bilateral talks, rather that Foreign Ministry bureaucrats who lack information about the ongoing investigation.

During the weekend talks, Japanese delegates asked North Korea to give further information on the eight Japanese it abducted as well as two others it says never entered the country. The North Korean counterparts replied that they would convey the request to a committee overseeing the investigation.

Tokyo believes all 10 were abducted to North Korea and doubts the story that eight have since died. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il promised Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that a fresh investigation would be conducted during Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang in May.

Machimura said the next round of talks should be held in Pyongyang because that would make it easier for the North Korean delegates to report on the progress of the investigation.

Separately, Machimura predicted that Washington would make a decision on its military realignment plan by the yearend, following the November presidential election. He said, however, that it would probably not be the final conclusion.

He said it might take time for Japan to wrap up its own response to the plans.

Machimura, who serves as vice chairman of a Diet members’ group to promote relations with China, also commented on Tokyo-Beijing ties.

He said bilateral ties need to be improved through mutual visits of the two countries’ top leaders. Such visits have been stalled due to Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors convicted Class-A war criminals along with the nation’s war dead and is a sore point with Japan’s Asian neighbors.

Although Machimura is a member of a politician’s group that pays respect to Yasukuni, he said he might refrain from visiting the Shinto shrine during his tenure as foreign minister.

“Now that I have taken up the post as foreign minister, there may be another way of thinking on whether to visit Yasukuni,” he said.

But he defended Koizumi’s controversial visits, saying it is only natural that the nation’s leader pay respect to those who died for their country.

Machimura has been elected seventh times from Hokkaido’s No. 5 district in the Lower House. He belongs to a faction led by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, of which Koizumi was a member until he took office in 2001.