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Japan asks Qatar to stop accepting N. Korean laborers

DOHA (Kyodo) -- Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono asked his Qatari counterpart on Saturday for the Middle Eastern country to stop accepting North Korean laborers, in line with a proposed U.N. sanctions resolution calling for a ban on accepting such workers, a Japanese official said.

    Regarding Qatar's diplomatic rift with Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments, which announced in June they were cutting off diplomatic relations with Doha, Kono offered Japan's help in being a mediator between the two sides, the official said.

    During the first leg of his six-day trip to the Middle East, Kono urged Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani for cooperation in tackling North Korea, which conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date last weekend.

    Concerns persist that North Korea is preparing for another missile launch or nuclear test around its key anniversaries including Saturday's national foundation day. Last year, Pyongyang carried out its fifth nuclear test on the anniversary.

    A new, stricter U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution drafted after the latest nuclear test envisages a ban on the hiring and payment of North Korean laborers, whose wages are seen as a source of income that Pyongyang is accused of exploiting to support its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

    The draft resolution, distributed to the full Security Council membership, may be put to a vote early next week, with the United States calling for a vote on Monday.

    Kono has said during a parliamentary session that some Middle Eastern countries have accepted thousands of North Korean workers.

    Kono, who will also visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt, said his country is ready to help in resolving the dispute between Qatar and others over the severance of diplomatic ties and said he hopes the issues can be settled at an early date through dialogue.

    In response, Qatar's foreign minister expressed his gratitude to Japan, the official said.

    Japan hopes to capitalize on its close relations with both Qatar and Saudi Arabia so they can find a diplomatic solution to their dispute, according to Japanese officials.

    Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were among the Arab countries that announced in June they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar over what they say is Doha's alleged support for Islamist terrorist and extremist groups. The tiny, gas-rich emirate has denied the accusation.

    The foreign ministers of Japan and Qatar also reaffirmed their continued cooperation in ensuring a stable supply of energy including liquefied natural gas, the official said.

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