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Japan will not impose economic sanctions on North Korea as long as it remains committed to solving issues related to the abduction of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang agents, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda.

But Hosoda, a key policy formulator in long-standing talks with North Korea, also warned that the nation’s patience could run out if negotiations drag on interminably.

The North Koreans “are saying they want to normalize the bilateral relationship while avoiding (economic sanctions). I don’t think they intend to put an end to these issues while leaving them unresolved,” Hosoda told reporters in a group interview this week.

Relatives of Japanese abductees have repeatedly demanded that the government impose economic sanctions on the reclusive state, claiming that talks without pressure will not bear fruit.

But Hosoda said that if Tokyo were to announce the introduction of economic sanctions targeting the North, this would serve as “a kind of ultimatum,” leaving Tokyo with no further policy options.

If the Japanese public’s patience runs out, “We would then have to determine if (sanctions) will be a real plus to resolve the (abduction) issues,” he said.

Hosoda, who was appointed in May following the sudden resignation of Yasuo Fukuda, is said to lack the political clout of his predecessor.

Still, the former trade ministry bureaucrat is viewed as the linchpin of the Cabinet, tasked as he is with coordinating policy between all the government ministries and the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

He said the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan are all opposed to the nuclear armament of North Korea.

Hosoda warned that if North Korea refuses to make any concessions during six-party talks over its suspected nuclear weapons development, the U.S. and some other countries might put the issue on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council.

On domestic issues, Hosoda stressed the importance of privatizing the nation’s postal services, although opinion polls have suggested that a majority of voters question Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s strategy of pushing postal reform as the top priority of his government.

A recent survey by the Asahi Shimbun showed that 52 percent of respondents felt pension and welfare issues should be the top policy priority; only 2 percent cited postal reforms.

“Ever since the (beginning) of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the state has long intervened in (private-sector) economic activities. Japan has been established as a country led by bureaucrats,” Hosoda said.

“Now we’re trying to put an end to all this practice. This carries much importance for us, though it may be a bit difficult for people to understand.”

Hosoda said the same media polls also show that a majority of voters support postal privatization itself.

The Asahi poll showed that 45 percent supported the postal privatization plan of the Koizumi Cabinet, while 33 percent opposed it.

He added that widespread public support will be a big factor in pushing the enactment of the postal privatization bills, even though many lawmakers in the Liberal Democratic Party remain opposed to the initiative.

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