TRIESTE, Italy (Kyodo) Japan vigorously pushed to have North Korea’s recent belligerence discussed at this year’s meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Eight nations.
But amid concerns over the violent crackdown on protesters over a disputed presidential election, Iran stole the spotlight, even from Afghanistan, which host Italy had sought to highlight.
Still, Japanese officials are confident they were able to achieve their original purpose at the high-profile political event, which concluded Saturday.
“I am glad that we were able to send a strong message” to North Korea, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said during a news conference Friday after leading discussions on the subject with his G8 colleagues.
He was referring to a G8 chairman’s statement that condemned “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s May 25 nuclear test and April 5 rocket launch.
Calling such actions a threat to regional peace and stability, the G8 called on all U.N. members to “fully and transparently implement their obligations” stipulated in a new U.N. Security Council resolution against the North.
The G8 called on North Korea to return to the stalled six-party talks on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
For the Japanese officials, a small but important reference was included in the chairman’s statement at the end of the paragraph about North Korea.
“We also urge (North Korea’s) prompt action to address the concerns of the international community on humanitarian matters, including the abduction issue,” the statement says.
Thanks to the reference to the abductions of Japanese and foreign nationals by the country, Nakasone said he believes that Japan’s position was well represented in the document.
G8 ministers “also listened to my opinions attentively,” he told reporters.
While the Japanese officials appeared pleased with the outcome, the dominant issue at the foreign ministers meeting, which precedes the G8 leaders summit to be held July 8 to 10, was not North Korea but Iran and Afghanistan.
Iran loomed large on the world stage in recent days because of its bloody crackdown on demonstrators protesting the presidential election.
Iran’s absence from the outreach sessions of the talks, to which Rome had invited Tehran as a crucial player in the Afghanistan question, fueled interest in how the G8 would respond to the Iranian crisis.
The interest in Iran was also evident at the G8 news conference on Friday. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini only mentioned North Korea at the very end of his opening remarks, and questions from reporters concentrated on Iran.
Given that all eyes were on Iran, experts say it was natural that Japan had a tough time selling its agenda.
But Hitoshi Tanaka, a former deputy foreign minister, said that having the North Korean issue addressed at the G8 is still significant in that it is a good place to get endorsements from other major powers.
“The G8 is not the main place to address the North Korean issue, but the countries participating in the six-party talks are,” he said. “What is important for Japan is to get Europe and Canada to endorse and support the thinking of Japan, the United States and South Korea, which are more aligned than before.”
Some observers suggested that because North Korea gets less attention than Iran and Afghanistan, Japan should address the North Korean issue from the viewpoint of nuclear nonproliferation, not just from that of denuclearization.
“Although Japan has not said much about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials to produce them, it should stress the importance of the problem,” said Hajime Izumi, an expert on North Korea.
“On top of doing so, Japan should declare that possessing nuclear weapons is in and of itself a problem for East Asia,” the University of Shizuoka professor said.
Izumi also noted the importance of addressing the North Korean issue at the G8 given the relative importance attached to the annual gathering these days.
“This is the age of the Group of 20, not the Group of Eight, when you talk about the economy. So in that sense, the significance of the G8 from the aspects of foreign policy, politics and security has become more evident,” Izumi said, adding that the issue should be placed in that context.
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