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Japan to keep N. Korean sanctions even if US eases them based on summit results

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves upon arrival at Dong Dang Station in Vietnam on Feb. 26, 2019, ahead of his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Minh Hoang)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government has informed the United States that it will continue its freeze on humanitarian and economic assistance to North Korea for the foreseeable future, even though the U.S. is considering easing sanctions on the country if it demonstrates that it will take concrete steps toward denuclearization in the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit.

Because the Japanese government wants to keep sanctions against North Korea as a negotiating card in discussing the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals by the state, Japan is waiting to assess what steps North Korea will take after the Feb. 27-28 summit.

In a joint statement signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump at their first summit in Singapore in June 2018, Kim vowed to "work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

According to a Japanese government source, however, the government determined that North Korea did not take any effective steps after that summit. From the government's perspective, there is no guarantee that North Korea will take real steps even if an agreement is reached at the second summit. Thus Japanese working-level officials informed their U.S. counterparts that "it was too soon to offer economic cooperation and humanitarian assistance."

U.S. President Trump, meanwhile, has hinted at easing sanctions depending on the level of progress that is made toward North Korea's denuclearization. There is a chance that the U.S. may try to provide for an exception to the U.N. Security Council's economic sanctions against North Korea, but a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official emphasized, "Japan must deal with the issue of abductees, and cannot support such a move (by the U.S.). The U.S. understands Japan's position."

The Japanese government has also notified the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF, which offer food and medical assistance from a humanitarian standpoint, that it prohibits the use of Japanese government contributions to assist North Korea. Foreign Minister Taro Kono is said to be telling those close to him that "North Korea is not a bankrupt state; it is simply not distributing food and medical products that it has to its people."

To counterbalance the Japanese government's refusal to offer humanitarian assistance, it is set to proactively cooperate with inspections of North Korea's nuclear-related facilities. This may include the shouldering of costs related to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the dispatch of experts.

In the Stockholm Agreement reached by the governments of Japan and North Korea in 2014, North Korea pledged to reinvestigate the issue of the state-sponsored abduction of Japanese nationals in return for an easing of Japan's sanctions against North Korea and the provision of humanitarian assistance. However, North Korea subsequently carried out nuclear and missile testing and Japan reinforced its sanctions once again. It is Tokyo's hope to use what Pyongyang wants as leverage, and withhold it unless the latter is willing to truly resolve the abduction issue in Japan-North Korea talks.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama and Muneyoshi Mitsuda, Political News Department)

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