Machimura counsels caution on North Korean sanctions

The Associated Press

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said Sunday the government remains cautious about imposing economic sanctions on North Korea because the impoverished communist country could use it as an excuse to pull out of bilateral talks.

Japanese officials visited Pyongyang last month for talks about people abducted by the North’s spies in the 1970s and ’80s. But several rounds of talks have brought little progress, prompting calls for the government to take a harder line against the country — including exploring ways to promote a change of the authoritarian regime.

The Diet passed a law in February that would let Japan ban trade or impose economic sanctions on other countries, including North Korea.

But Machimura said the government wants to exhaust talks with the North before resorting to such measures.

“If we were to use sanctions, North Korea could use that as a reason or an excuse not to agree to talks,” he told an Asahi TV morning talk show.

Machimura said DNA analysis of remains the North handed over last month and says belong to Megumi Yokota haven’t been completed. He said he didn’t know when the results would emerge.

Yokota — among 13 Japanese citizens North Korea has admitted kidnapping — was only 13 when she was abducted by North Korean spies in 1977. The North let five Japanese return home in 2002 but claims Yokota died along with seven others.

Many Japanese are skeptical about the details surrounding the deaths and suspect the eight — and at least two other unconfirmed abductees — could still be alive in the reclusive country.