Keep North on list: Komura

Terrorist-sponsor designation a means to resolve abduction issue

by Reiji Yoshida

When U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits next week, Japan will tell Washington that it should continue using its terrorist-sponsor designation for North Korea as leverage against Pyongyang, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said Friday.

“The U.S. is now ready to use delisting (the North) as a negotiating tool for denuclearizing North Korea. That is the leverage the U.S. has (against the North),” Komura told reporters Friday.

“We are now asking the U.S. to let us use this leverage more. There is not enough (pressure) yet.”

Komura and Rice are set to speak June 27 on the sidelines of the June 26-27 Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting.

The bilateral meeting is expected to be a test of Japanese-U.S. solidarity regarding North Korea.

Tokyo has repeatedly urged Washington not to remove Pyongyang from its list of terrorist-sponsoring states in exchange for progress under the six-party denuclearization framework unless Pyongyang makes major progress in resolving one of its own, unrelated issues: the abduction of Japanese by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s.

But on Wednesday, Rice restated her willingness to delist the North if Pyongyang submits a full declaration of its nuclear activities, putting Japan in a dilemma: Should it continue its hardline stance over the abductions to the detriment of the North’s possible denuclearization?

Experts say Rice is now rushing to clinch a deal with North Korea before U.S. President George W. Bush’s term ends in January.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang is apparently eager to be removed from the list to end its international and financial isolation. Delisting is an absolute prerequisite for receiving loans from international financial institutions, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

While the North’s nuclear ambitions pose a direct security threat to Japan, the abduction issue is a very emotional topic for the Japanese public. Any attempt to strike a convenient compromise on the issue would cause serious problems for Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and his Cabinet and prompt government officials to publicly call on the U.S. to keep pressuring the North with the terrorist-sponsor list.

Still, government officials are well aware of the importance of preserving Japan’s alliance with the U.S and denuclearizing the North.

The chief U.S. negotiator on denuclearization, Christopher Hill, met his Japanese counterpart, Akitaka Saiki, on Thursday in Tokyo.

Saiki, talking to reporters after the meeting, remained low-key on the abduction issue and only said he repeated Japan’s position to Hill.

“The U.S. government fully recognizes that this issue has great meaning in the context of the Japan-North Korea relationship,” Saiki said. “Japan and the U.S. will closely keep cooperating in handling (North Korean issues).”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told the Diet on Thursday that Japan will keep pressing the U.S. to keep the North on the terrorist-sponsor list.

But at a news conference June 13, Machimura also stressed that any decisions on the issue would eventually be up to the U.S.