Japan step closer to extending North Korea sanctions

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TOKYO, Oct 4 (Reuters) Japan moved towards extending sanctions against North Korea today, despite progress in talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, as Tokyo stuck to demands it must learn the fate of Japanese nationals abducted years ago.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said Japan would not provide any energy aid to the impoverished country, but welcomed the agreement reached at the six-party talks in Beijing, saying it clearly called for the North to take action to improve ties.

''With no progress currently seen on the abduction issue, there is no change to our stance of not participating in energy aid,'' Fukuda told parliament after his Liberal Democratic Party approved the extension of sanctions.

Under the six-party agreement unveiled by China on Wednesday, North Korea would receive a total of 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil in return for disabling its nuclear facilities and declaring its nuclear programmes by the end of the year.

Fukuda welcomed the fact that the agreement, reached among the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, stipulated North Korea and Japan would try to normalise their relations by taking ''specific actions''.

''It would be good if issues between Japan and North Korea, particularly the abduction issue, are resolved while the nuclear issue is being firmly resolved,'' Fukuda later told reporters.

Analysts say the six-party joint statement could pave the way for Japan and North Korea to improve ties.

''From Japan's point of view, the joint statement is good. It could advance relations between Japan and North Korea,'' said Noriyuki Suzuki, chief analyst at the Tokyo-based Radiopress news agency, which specialises in monitoring North Korean media.

The fate of the abductees is a highly emotive issue in Japan.

Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, five of whom have since been repatriated.

North Korea says the other eight are dead, but Tokyo is demanding more information about their fate as well as information on another four people it says were also kidnapped.

''It's so simple. We are ready to lift the sanctions if North Korea comes forward and does good things to resolve our concerns, including the abduction issue,'' a senior Japanese government official told Reuters.

Japan and North Korea last held talks in September on establishing diplomatic ties but failed to make any visible progress. They did agree to meet again, although no date has been set.

Japanese officials have said Tokyo planned to extend the sanctions -- which ban North Korean imports and bar North Korean ships from Japanese ports -- for six months. Kyodo news agency said the cabinet was set to give formal approval next Tuesday.

The measures were first imposed after Pyongyang carried out its first nuclear test last October and were rolled over in April until mid-October.

Japan's total trade with North Korea amounted to about 0 million in 2005, about half that of 2002, and has dwindled to a trickle in 2006.


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