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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006

Ship checks ruled out as Abe eyes more sanctions


By KANAKO TAKAHARA and MASAMI ITO

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday the government may impose harsher unilateral economic sanctions on North Korea after Pyongyang carried out what it said was an atomic test Monday.

News photo
Seismic waves measured at various points around Japan at the time of the North Korean test Monday are explained by a staff member of the Meteorological Agency in Tokyo. AP PHOTO

The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution condemning North Korea's nuclear test, demanding that it immediately abandon its nuclear arms program and unconditionally return to the six-nation talks aimed at ending its atomic threat.

Japan and its allies are trying to confirm the test, which is likely to take a few days, government officials said.

The United States, Japan and others in the region have been closely monitoring North Korea after it announced on Oct. 3 its intention to conduct a nuclear test.

"If North Korea worsens the situation, it will have to suffer the consequences," Abe told a Lower House Budget Committee session Tuesday. "Japan needs to take severe, unilateral measures as soon as possible.

"If North Korea did conduct a nuclear test, we absolutely cannot tolerate it because it is a challenge to the peace and stability of this region."

The prime minister added that North Korea is a "serious threat" to Japan because Pyongyang's missile arsenal gives it the potential to launch a nuclear strike.

Among the harsher sanctions, the government is considering a ban on all North Korean vessels entering Japanese ports, government officials said.

Japan imposed unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang after it conducted missile tests over the Sea of Japan on July 5. The measures included a six-month ban on port calls by the North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92, the only passenger link between Japan and the North. North Korean officials have also been barred from entering Japan and screening of other visitors has been tightened.

The government also strengthened financial sanctions last month.

One of the key questions in Tuesday's budget committee session was whether Japan will join in international inspections of North Korean freighters -- a provision included in the U.S.-sponsored draft resolution submitted to the U.N. Security Council in response to the nuclear test.

Junji Higashi, a senior member of New Komeito, voiced concern about Japanese participation in such inspections, saying it would imply Japan was exercising the right of belligerency, which is barred under the pacifist Constitution.

Apparently sharing these concerns, Foreign Minister Taro Aso downplayed the possibility of Japan taking part.

"Japan is not thinking of expanding sanctions to cargo inspections," he said.

Another concern is how tighter sanctions might affect Japanese importers of North Korean products, including "matsutake" mushrooms and marine products.

But Akira Amari, minister of economy, trade and industry, said the government will take steps to assist importers that might suffer from tougher sanctions.

Experts point out that additional unilateral measures will have a limited impact on North Korea.

"It simply means Japan will move forward the imposition (of sanctions) stated in the draft resolution" currently under discussion in the U.N. Security Council, said Hajime Izumi, professor of international relations at the University of Shizuoka. "But unilateral sanctions will not have much effect."

Izumi added that expanded sanctions would merely extend the ban on port calls by the North Korean ferry add other limited measures, since Japan has already hit Pyongyang with economic sanctions after the missile tests.

The focus, Izumi said, would be whether Japan and the U.S. can gain support from China, South Korea and Russia in adopting a new U.N. resolution with tighter restrictions on North Korea.

The U.S. draft resolution calls for action under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes international economic sanctions or military action to deal with threats to international peace and security.



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