• Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Reports

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U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon said Tuesday that economic sanctions by Washington on North Korea could push Pyongyang toward war.

Referring to U.S. policies, the Pennsylvania Republican told reporters in Tokyo, “I am against economic sanctions at this time because I’m concerned that it would drive (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il to do things that might precipitate a stupid act.”

Weldon led a bipartisan delegation to North Korea last week.

He said: “A small act can oftentimes become the beginning of a war. We will not do anything in a short term to drive him toward a confrontation that would escalate into a military conflict.”

But Weldon said he would support Japan if it decided to impose economic sanctions on the North. This policy option is widely favored by the Japanese public.

“Japan’s got to do what it thinks is best for its people and I will support that,” he said, referring to bilateral negotiations on the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North. “In (America’s) viewpoint, I am one who opposes economic sanctions for our country right now.”

On Monday night, Weldon and members of his delegation met House of Representatives member Takeo Hiranuma, who leads a group of lawmakers working on behalf of abduction victims and their relatives and is known to favor sanctions, according to Japanese officials.

Weldon reportedly told Hiranuma that Japan should be cautious about using economic sanctions.

There possibilities for increased dialogue are growing, given that the U.S. delegation was given another invitation to visit the North, and a meeting could be set up with Kim, the officials quoted him as saying.

The delegation is in Japan to brief the government on its four-day visit to North Korea as part of U.S. efforts to restart the stalled six-nation talks to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The members briefed the Chinese and South Korean governments before arriving in Tokyo and are expected to visit Russia before returning to the U.S.

Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said North Korea told the delegation that it is “absolutely serious” about negotiating with other parties to dismantle its nuclear arms program.

The focus of the negotiation is on “who does what first,” Weldon said. North Korea hopes to establish a “friendship with America.”

The six-nation talks have stalled since the third round was held in June. Pyongyang has blamed Washington’s policies and said it wants to wait and see what U.S. President George W. Bush will do in his second term.

But in a meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda later in the day, Weldon said North Korea may agree to resume the six-party talks soon.

“I got the impression that the North Korean side is ready to attend six-way talks,” said Weldon, according to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry. “There is a possibility that the talks will be resumed within a few weeks.”

Weldon also explained to Hosoda that he told North Korea the abduction issue is not only crucial for Tokyo but for Washington as well in terms of normalizing ties with Pyongyang, according to the statement.

North Korea has admitted abducting Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. But while the Japanese government recognizes 15 Japanese as having been kidnapped, North Korea claims the number is 13, and that the remaining two never entered its territory.

North Korea claimed eight of the 13 have died. The five it said are the only survivors were allowed to return to Japan in 2002.

Japan remains unconvinced of North Korea’s investigations on the issue, which has prevented the two countries from resuming talks on establishing diplomatic relations.

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