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Staff writer

The government will seriously consider resuming charter flights between Japan and North Korea, new Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said Wednesday in an interview.

The halt is a part of sanctions Tokyo imposed on Pyongyang following its August 1998 launch of a Taepodong-1 missile that flew over northeastern Japan.

“Resumption of charter flights between Japan and North Korea needs serious consideration, although such consideration must be careful,” said Kono, 62, a former president of the Liberal Democratic Party who is serving as foreign minister for the second time.

Kono praised recent progress in missile talks between the United States and North Korea, during which Pyongyang promised it will not conduct more test-launches while it is engaged in negotiations with the U.S.

“In response to the successful outcome of their talks, Japan should strive to keep abreast of U.S. efforts by considering easing Japan’s sanctions on North Korea,” Kono said. “Progress in U.S.-North Korean talks may also reinvigorate Japan-North Korean talks.”

Japan’s sanctions since August 1998 include a freeze on food aid, suspension of charter flights and suspension of talks for normalizing diplomatic relations.

“Regarding food aid, however, the government has no plans to stop the freeze, at least at this moment,” Kono said. “But we don’t deny the possibilities of resuming food aid from the standpoint of humanitarian assistance.”

On the issue of whether Japan will send personnel to East Timor to join international efforts to restore stability there, Kono said Japan should concentrate on the reconstruction of devastated social infrastructure in the territory.

“Japan strongly supports peace efforts by the multinational force there. We hope our financial contributions will support their activities,” Kono said, adding that Japan’s financial aid is appreciated by the international community.

On Monday, the government decided to contribute $100 million to a U.N. trust fund to help developing nations take part in the U.N.-approved multinational force deployed to restore order there.

Japan is legally prohibited from making any personnel contributions to multinational peacekeeping forces.

Regarding a Group of Eight summit meeting Japan is to host next July in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Kono renewed his pledge to make the millennium event successful.

“I am assigned by Prime Minister (Keizo Obuchi) to do my utmost to prepare for the summit,” Kono said. “And we must carefully consider what messages we will send from Okinawa to the world.”

Concerning relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ helicopter operations at Futenma Air Station in Okinawa to a replacement site in the prefecture, Kono said he must avoid linking it with the Okinawa summit.

“The government is closely watching the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s efforts to select the site,” he said. “We should first respect the Okinawa government initiative in the process.”

Okinawa is striving to select a relocation site under the leadership of Gov. Keiichi Inamine. The central government wants to resolve the Futenma issue before the Okinawa summit in July 2000.

As for stalled peace-treaty negotiations with Russia, Kono said he will strive to realize Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s visit to Japan by the end of this year.

“Top-level talks between our two leaders are indispensable to keep our negotiations intact,” Kono said. “Without top-level talks, ideas compiled in the Tokyo Declaration could never be implemented.”

The Tokyo Declaration, signed in 1993 by Yeltsin and then Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, says the two nations will try to resolve their long standing territorial row on the based on the principles of law and justice.

Demarcation talks over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, however, have virtually come to a standstill as Yeltsin’s health problems loom large and Russia’s internal political turmoil cast shadows over his Japan visit.

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