Keep North engaged, pressure on: Koizumi

Kyodo

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday called for continuing dialogue with and pressure on North Korea following the death of its leader Kim Jong Il, stressing the need to maintain Tokyo’s stance toward the communist country.

“Dialogue and pressure, there is no need to change this policy,” the former leader of the Liberal Democratic Party said.

Koizumi, 69, visited the reclusive country twice as prime minister and spoke in person with the reclusive Kim, who was the same age.

Koizumi said Kim “didn’t come off as a dictator or being sullen.” “He was cheery and spoke frankly, and communicated his own opinions without looking at manuscripts so often,” said Koizumi.

Koizumi hopes that North Korea “respects the opinion of the international community as much as possible and thinks that this is a big chance to transform itself tremendously,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

He urged Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, resolve its long-standing feud with Japan over the past abductions of Japanese nationals and join the international community.

As prime minister, Koizumi visited Pyongyang twice — in September 2002 and May 2004 — and held talks with the leader. The talks resulted in North Korea admitting to past abductions of Japanese citizens and the return to Japan of several abduction victims and their relatives.

Recalling his interactions with Kim, whose weekend death was announced by Pyongyang on Monday, Koizumi said, “I was hoping to pave the way for the normalization (of diplomatic ties) while he was still alive and well. So it’s regrettable.”

Meanwhile, Kyoko Nakayama, an aide on abduction matters when Koizumi was prime minister, said Kim’s death presents a “good opportunity” to have the abductees Japan asserts are still alive in North Korea returned to Japan. “The government should take action immediately,” she said.