Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda brushed aside concerns that the U.S. decision to remove North Korea from its list of terrorism-sponsor states would hurt Tokyo’s efforts to resolve its dispute with Pyongyang over its past abductions of Japanese.
Japan will continue talking with North Korea to resolve the abductions, which he said will continue to be a major concern for Tokyo.
“We will negotiate. Without negotiating, this will not be resolved,” Fukuda said, noting such talks will include working with the United States and three other countries in the six-party North-denuclearization talks — Russia, South Korea and China.
Fukuda made the comment in Tokyo a few hours before the Chinese Foreign Ministry said North Korea had presented its long-overdue nuclear declaration to China in line with an accord involving the six nations.
Following the announcement, the U.S. said it will initiate procedures to delist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Fukuda said Japan will carefully review the contents of North Korea’s declaration.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said separately that Pyongyang’s declaration of its nuclear programs was an important step toward the final goal of the six-party talks, which is to denuclearize North Korea, the sixth member of the talks.
There is concern that Japan will lose leverage with the North over the abductions once the U.S. removes Pyongyang from its terrorism-sponsor list. Fukuda said he did not think this would be the case.
On Wednesday evening, U.S. President George W. Bush and Fukuda chatted over the phone and confirmed that Tokyo and Washington will continue to be in close contact to resolve both the nuclear and abduction issues, according to Japanese officials.
The North’s declaration submitted to China made no mention of its atomic weapons, a key bone of contention.
Relatives of Japanese abducted to North Korea expressed frustration with the government Thursday and said it didn’t take a firm enough stand with the United States on retaining Pyongyang on its blacklist of terrorism sponsors.
“The U.S. designation (of North Korea on the list) has been the biggest leverage of all the measures for resolving the abduction issue,” said Shigeo Iizuka, 70, chairman of the Japanese Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea.