WASHINGTON – Some members of the U.S. administration are concerned Tokyo will give the impression that it is rewarding Pyongyang in return for progress on the question of Japanese allegedly abducted by North Korea, a senior U.S. official said Friday.
Large-scale food assistance may be offered at a summit scheduled for Tuesday between the two nations.
“For Japan’s own interest as well as for our respective interest in North Korea,” Tokyo must be careful about the impression it could create if it provides food assistance while making progress on the missing Japanese nationals, the official said.
“It reflects some type of thinking in this administration,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “It’s not misgivings, but just a sort of thinking.
“I wouldn’t say we are concerned,” the official added. “It’s just a question of we have well-founded mistrust of these (North Korean) people.”
He said the United States expects that if an agreement is reached on Japanese food assistance, it would go through U.N. aid agencies to avoid the impression of abductors being rewarded.
“We respect Japan’s position if assistance (can) be multilateralized,” he said.
The official’s views appear to reflect those of hardliners inside the administration, which differ from the official position.
The abduction issue will be high on the agenda at the landmark summit on Tuesday between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Tokyo claims at least 11 Japanese were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.
Koizumi will become the first Japanese prime minister to visit the North for talks with a North Korean leader. He hopes to resolve a number of thorny issues that have stymied relations with the North following Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The U.S. maintains a policy of not rewarding hostage-takers for their crimes. But critics say Washington violated this long-standing principle in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s and in recent efforts to secure the release of an abducted U.S. missionary couple in the southern Philippines.
After a meeting in New York on Wednesday between Koizumi and President George W. Bush, another senior U.S. official reiterated that Bush expressed his support for Koizumi’s upcoming trip to Pyongyang.
“He stressed the need for good allies to continue to consult on this sensitive issue,” the official said.
Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties and relations between the two nations have been rocky for years.
Talks on normalizing bilateral ties have been stalled for two years over a host of issues, including the alleged abductions. North Korea has denied the allegations.
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