A key panel of the Liberal Democratic Party approved a bill Wednesday that would allow Japan to impose economic sanctions on North Korea without an international agreement.

The proposed bill, drafted by junior LDP lawmakers, would involve amendments to the foreign exchange and trade law.

Under the bill, the government would be able to impose sanctions — such as halting remittances to Pyongyang — if it deems a maneuver of this kind necessary to “maintain the nation’s peace and safety.”

“(The move itself) will be a diplomatic message toward the North,” said Ichita Yamamoto, the House of Councilors member who drew up the revision. “It is an advantage for the government to have (an extra) diplomatic card.”

But it is still unclear whether the bill will be submitted to the Diet within the current session, as it must first be approved by the two other ruling coalition members — New Komeito and the New Conservative Party.

The current Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law allows the government to suspend cash remittances only when there is a multinational agreement or a United Nations resolution to this end.

Last month, the government lowered the barrier for launching economic sanctions by stating that an agreement between Japan and the United States constitutes a multinational agreement.

But the revision would allow Japan to impose sanctions independently — without the consent of any other nations.

Under initial versions of the bill, the foreign minister, the finance minister or the trade minister would have been allowed to decide whether to impose economic sanctions.

The final version, however, requires Cabinet endorsement.

The proposed bill was deliberated within the party until last month, due to concern that merely discussing the issue would provoke Pyongyang.

Earlier Wednesday, a group of nonpartisan lawmakers demanded that Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi replace Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka, who is opposed to upping the pressure on Pyongyang.

Tanaka has been criticized for trying to strike the word “pressure” from a briefing document prepared for reporters concerning a meeting between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S. President George W. Bush last month.

Koizumi used the term “pressure and dialogue” when referring to North Korea.

Kawaguchi said she does not intend to replace Tanaka.

Ferry wins go-ahead

NIIGATA (Kyodo) The Niigata Prefectural Government on Wednesday granted a controversial North Korean ferry permission to enter Niigata port on Monday, according to prefectural officials.

Customs authorities also began inspecting the cargo that will be loaded onto the ship, customs officials said.

According to an application for the use of port facilities submitted by North Korea, the Man Gyong Bong-92 will arrive at the central pier of Niigata port at 8:45 a.m. Monday.

It will depart at 10 a.m. the next day, the officials said.

Japanese authorities allege that the ship, which makes irregular trips between North Korea’s Wonsan and Niigata, is involved in the illegal transportation of materials with military potential, illegal money remittances and espionage activities.

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