WASHINGTON (Kyodo) North Korea would attack Japan if a war erupted as a result of efforts to implement recently strengthened U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang over its second nuclear test, a U.S. scholar said Wednesday.

Selig Harrison, Asia program director at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, sounded the warning during a House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee hearing on North Korea policy.

“In the event of another war with North Korea resulting from efforts to enforce the U.N. sanctions, it is Japan that North Korea would attack, in my view, not South Korea,” said Harrison, who visited North Korea in January.

“The reason — U.S. bases in Japan, in all likelihood,” he said, attributing the North’s eagerness to attack Japan to the U.S. military presence in the country.

“Nationalistic younger generals with no experience of the outside world are now in a strong position in the North Korean leadership” in the wake of the reported illness suffered by leader Kim Jong Il last year that led to “his reduced role in day-to-day management,” he said.

Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to punish Pyongyang over its nuclear test in late May, centering on tougher financial sanctions and the stricter enforcement of North Korean cargo inspections.

North Korea reacted with anger to the resolution, saying it would “weaponize” more plutonium, begin uranium enrichment and react militarily to blockades.

Harrison said the U.N. sanctions have further strengthened the generals’ hardline position because all North Koreans feel threatened by U.S. nuclear arms deployed near their border, and would be united if tensions caused by attempts to implement the sanctions should escalate to war.

The generals, he said, “have alarmed” others in the North Korean regime with their “unrealistic assessments of Pyongyang’s capabilities” in the case of a conflict with Japan.

The scholar also said some of the generals were angry at the North Korean leader’s apology for Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese nationals during his September 2002 talks with then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Despite the apology, Japan and North Korea remain at odds over the abductions and the row has been an obstacle to normalizing ties.

“When Kim Jong Il apologized to Prime Minister Koizumi in 2002, this was a very sensitive matter inside North Korea. This was regarded as very unfortunate by many of the nationalistic younger generals and other generals and others within North Korea,” Harrison said.

“But this is history. Japanese colonialism was the biggest event in the history of Korea that had an impact on the current situation, in many ways,” he added.

North bans passage

North Korea has banned vessels from passing through waters off its eastern coast, the Japan Coast Guard said Thursday, raising the possibility Pyongyang is planning to test more short-range missiles over the Sea of Japan.

The coast guard issued a warning to ships planning to pass through the area after monitoring a North Korean radio broadcast announcing the navigation ban.

According to the coast guard, the ban covers an area some 263 km long and up to 54 km wide off Wonsan in eastern North Korea.

The area is almost the same as that specified in a ban issued earlier this month. The fresh navigation ban runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Japan time every day through June 30, the same as the earlier ban.

The coast guard said it is not known why North Korea issued the fresh navigation ban or if it is linked with the previous one.

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