Armitage urges Japan not to impose sanctions now on N. Korea

2ND LD: Armitage urges Japan not to impose sanctions now on N. Korea

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 Kyodo

(EDS: CLARIFYING LEAD GRAF)

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage urged Japan on Monday to avoid using economic sanctions on North Korea at this time to pressure it into resolving the abduction issue because the North may use it as a tool to ”outmaneuver” on various issues, a visiting Japanese state minister said.

Washington, which has repeatedly expressed its support on Tokyo’s efforts to settle the issue, is apparently worried that Japan’s unilateral action may harden Pyongyang’s response for an early resumption of the stalled six-nation talks on the North’s nuclear programs.

Speaking to reporters after her talks with senior U.S. officials, Yuriko Koike, state minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, also said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld showed ”great interest” over the Japan-Russia territorial dispute and offered to ”strategically” take up the issue in talks with the Russian side.

Koike, who is concurrently serving as environment minister, stopped over in Washington on her way to Buenos Aires for the Dec. 15-17 10th Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Referring to her talks with Armitage and Michael Green, senior director for Asia on the White House National Security Council, Koike said the United States ”advised that there is room to consider what is best regarding the timing and method” for imposing economic sanctions.

”From their experiences, the U.S. side believes that economic sanctions are effective when showing them as a card, but implementing them actually comes along with much difficulties and the opponent may use them to outmaneuver,” Koike said, noting that she agrees with the view.

In Japan, calls for economic sanctions are increasing among the public and lawmakers after the Japanese government found earlier this month that ashes returned by North Korea as those of abducted Japanese national Megumi Yokota were not hers.

Yokota, who was abducted at age 13 in 1977, is seen as a symbol of the abduction issue, with her parents leading a campaign to rescue her and other Japanese abductees.

Armitage, who has met with the parents, called the North Korea move ”insincere and disrespectful,” and reiterated that the United States will fully support and help Japan solve the abduction issue, Koike said.

As for the stalled six-party talks, Armitage said Pyongyang seems to be waiting to see the second-term administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and an expected personnel reshuffle in Japan’s foreign and other related ministries, according to Koike.

But he underlined the policy under the Bush administration to seek a negotiated resolution through the six-nation framework that involves China, Japan, South and North Korea, Russia and the United States remains unchanged, she said.

Pyongyang has refused to return to the six-way talks since the third round held in June despite an agreement to hold the fourth by the end of September.

In her talks with Rumsfeld, Koike said she explained Japan’s position over the long-standing territorial dispute with Russia, and the U.S. defense secretary expressed his ”understanding” and promised to take up the issue in talks with the Russian side.

”Now that the United States is joining strategically (to address the issue), it will be a great help,” Koike said.

The territorial row over the islands off Hokkaido — seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II — has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from signing a peace treaty. Japan hopes to move negotiations forward in line with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s planned visit to Japan next year.

On the heavy U.S. military presence in Okinawa, Armitage, Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials expressed their understanding to Japan’s repeated call to reduce the burden there in the context of the planned global U.S. military realignment, Koike said.

But Koike said she also acknowledged the ”strategic importance” of Okinawa in connection with global and East Asian security, especially given the recent intrusion by a Chinese submarine into Japanese territorial waters near Okinawa, Chinese vessels’ marine research in Japan’s exclusive economic waters, and growing Chinese military power.

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