PYONGYANG — Although Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi returned to Japan on Saturday with the offspring of four repatriated Japanese abductees, many may be wondering whether he gained enough for what he offered.
It is not clear if Koizumi’s one-day trip to Pyongyang will boost momentum for normalizing bilateral ties. Koizumi said he agreed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that the two countries should resume working-level discussions aimed at reopening stalled normalization talks, but no deadline was set.
The two North Korea-born children of Kaoru and Yukiko Hasuike and three offspring of Yasushi and Fukie Chimura arrived Saturday night in Tokyo on a government jet.
But Charles Robert Jenkins, the American husband of freed abductee Hitomi Soga, and the couple’s two daughters refused to travel with them, citing concerns that Jenkins could face a U.S. court-martial for allegedly deserting to the North in 1965 when he was a U.S. Army sergeant on a patrol along the DMZ.
The government has been aware of the Jenkins problem ever since Soga returned to Japan in October 2002. Nevertheless, Koizumi, despite his close ties with U.S. President George W. Bush, has failed to obtain any promise from Washington for a pardon or at least “special consideration” for Jenkins so that he can live in Japan with his wife.
U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker, in a statement released following the Koizumi-Kim summit, hailed the prime minister’s success in bringing the offspring of four of the ex-abductees but made no mention of Jenkins.
Koizumi also offered 250,000 tons of rice and $10 million worth of medical supplies, and indicated Japan will not impose economic sanctions on North Korea.
“I told Kim that Japan will not impose sanctions if North Korea respects the (2002) Pyongyang Declaration,” which says both sides will not conduct actions that threaten the security of the other, Koizumi told reporters.
Earlier this year, the Diet enacted a law to allow Japan to unilaterally impose sanctions such as halting cash remittances to the North, and other legislation is pending that would allow Tokyo to ban entry of North Korean ships.
Lawmakers who drafted the bills have argued that the legislation gives Japan a bargaining chip against North Korea.
Kim promised to reinvestigate the case of eight abductees North Korea claims have died and two others it says never entered the country, and report to Japan. But he did not offer a specific deadline or new information on the 10, which Japan has repeatedly called for over the past 20 months since Koizumi’s previous visit.
In Tokyo, relatives of the 10 abductees decried Saturday’s summit. saying only North Korea gained from the talks.
Sakie Yokota, whose daughter, Megumi, one of the eight abductees whom North Korea claims have died, argued that Koizumi blew the best opportunity to resolve the abduction issue by offering food aid and medical aid.
A top Foreign Ministry official has admitted that public support will be a key factor in normalizing relations with North Korea, since taxpayer money will be used to provide economic assistance, which Japan has promised once diplomatic ties are normalized.
But if the public turns its back on Koizumi, his plan to nurture an atmosphere of friendly relations with the North may backfire, experts say.
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