Japan’s policy on North Korea under Prime Minister Taro Aso will remain focused on resolving the abduction issue, new Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said Tuesday.
“Japan’s position has not changed at all under the new administration,” Nakasone said in an interview with The Japan Times and other media organizations.
Japan’s sanctions against the hermit state will not be lifted while the North continues to suspend a probe into the abduction issue and takes measures to reactivate its nuclear reprocessing facility, he said.
The Cabinet is expected to adopt a bill to extend the sanctions for another six months beyond their Oct. 13 expiration.
The sanctions include a ban on port calls by all North Korean-registered ships and all imports from North Korea. It would be the fourth extension.
The sanctions, which include banning port calls by the cargo-passenger ferry Mangyongbong-92, were triggered by a series of ballistic missile tests North Korea conducted in the Sea of Japan in July 2006.
“We urge North Korea to swiftly set up its investigative committee on the abduction issue,” Nakasone said, adding that his U.S. counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, expressed support for resolving the issue during a meeting last week.
Pyongyang had agreed to complete the probe into North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals by fall in return for Tokyo lifting its sanctions against the North.
But North Korea announced in September it was postponing the creation of a committee to reinvestigate the abductions until a new Japanese prime minister was elected and in office.
“There are no changes in our stance and North Korea must return to its pledge as soon as possible,” Nakasone said.
Pyongyang has also flirted with reactivating its nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in Yongbyon, which would bring the six-party talks on North Korea’s denuclearization back to square one.
While some experts have suggested that Pyongyang will never give up its only source of strategic power, Nakasone said Japan will not tolerate the North restarting its nuclear weapons program.
Pyongyang “may have the intention of taking the upper hand by developing nuclear weapons,” but Japan will continue to urge a halt to its nuclear developments “as the only country to have experienced nuclear attacks,” Nakasone said.
Meanwhile, he voiced his concern over difficulties in extending the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, reiterating that Japan must remain involved in the fight against terrorism.
“We must not forget that the lives of 24 Japanese were taken” in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said.
Nakasone served as education minister in 1999 under both Prime Ministers Keizo Obuchi and Yoshio Mori. His father, Yasuhiro, was prime minister in the 1980s.