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Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe suggested Sunday that Japan may consider imposing sanctions on North Korea.

If the nuclear crisis in the country were to escalate, Abe said sanctions could include barring one of North Korea’s vessels from Niigata port.

“We now want to remain calm, refrain from imposing sanctions and resolve the matter through dialogue,” said Abe. “But if North Korea keeps escalating (the crisis), world opinion could change greatly.”

Speaking on a Fuji Television Network program, Abe suggested that if the international community shifts to a hardline approach against North Korea, Japan might consider sanctions such as prohibiting the Man Gyong Bong, a North Korean cargo-passenger vessel, from docking at Niigata.

Abe made the comments from Khabarovsk during a visit to Russia with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Pyongyang threatened Saturday to end a moratorium on its missile testing. A day earlier it announced it was withdrawing from an international treaty aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear arms.

In December, the communist country intensified efforts to resume its suspended nuclear program by removing seals from its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and expelling International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the country.

On the possibility of the United States using force with North Korea, the House of Representatives lawmaker said, “I have met with a number of high-ranking U.S. government officials, and I think they are not considering it at all.”

Concerning a list of 40 missing Japanese whose names were released Friday by a private group that says it cannot rule out the possibility of them having been abducted by North Korea, Abe said the government will not immediately act on the matter.

“We will decide (what to do) after the first step, which is the police recognizing the cases as most likely” to be abductions by North Korea, he said.

Mori goes to Seoul

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori left Tokyo on Sunday afternoon for South Korea to discuss issues regarding North Korea.

He is scheduled to meet with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and President-elect Roh Moo Hyun.

Mori, chairman of a lawmakers group on Japan-South Korea relations, will meet with Kim and Roh separately Monday in Seoul. They will exchange ideas on how to respond to North Korea’s recent withdrawal from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, officials said.

Accompanying Mori are Chikage Ogi, who is deputy head of the group, and the group’s secretary general, Fukushiro Nukaga. Ogi is also minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

Upon arrival, the group will participate in a dinner organized by former South Korean Prime Minister Kim Jong Pil, who is chairman of a group of South Korean lawmakers on relations with Japan, according to the officials.

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