- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

TOKYO — Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said yesterday it is important to send a strong message to North Korea that it cannot blackmail the international community with threats of building a nuclear arsenal.

He stopped short of advocating economic sanctions against the communist nation, however. Mr. Koizumi said Japan should study stronger missile defenses, but must remain committed to its long-standing policy of using the military strictly for self-defense.

“The North Koreans tend to come up with provocative words and statements” regarding their development of nuclear weapons, he said in an interview with a small group of reporters.

“They have made statements that are like blackmail,” he said. “It is important for us to approach them, to work on them, to make them understand that such a position is meaningless.”

Although Mr. Koizumi said Tokyo still wants to resolve the North Korean issue peacefully, he added that he believes “there is a need to accelerate research into missile defenses.”

Japan launched its first spy satellites in March in large part to monitor North Korea’s missile development. North Korea shocked this country by firing a ballistic missile over Japan’s main island in 1998.

Tokyo also is considering purchasing the latest Patriot missiles from the United States.

The current nuclear crisis started when U.S. officials said North Korea claimed it had a secret nuclear-weapons program in violation of a 1994 pact. North Korea has since restarted a frozen nuclear reactor, and told U.S. officials it had nuclear weapons in talks in Beijing last month.

Mr. Koizumi held the interview before he left to join world leaders at the 300th-anniversary celebrations of St. Petersburg, Russia. From there, he was to fly to Evian, France, to attend the Group of Eight summit of the world’s leading industrialized nations.

While in St. Petersburg, Mr. Koizumi is to meet with President Vladimir Putin and hold his first summit with China’s new president, Hu Jintao.

Mr. Koizumi said he expected the talks with Mr. Hu to be cordial, despite concerns in Beijing over recent moves in Japan to strengthen its military and fears in Tokyo that China’s economic growth poses a threat.

“I see no change in the growth of our friendly relations,” he said. “I would like to look at China’s economic growth not as a threat, but as a chance for us, as a stimulus.”

He said he will seek China’s cooperation on North Korea, but added that he does not expect the two leaders to discuss the possibility of economic sanctions.

Mr. Koizumi’s diplomacy with North Korea so far has had mixed results.

Last September, he pulled off a major coup, flying to Pyongyang for a high-profile summit with North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, that promised a thaw in the two nations’ chilly relations.

He won the freedom of five Japanese who were abducted by North Korean spies decades earlier. But talks to normalize relations since have fizzled over whether the five should be sent back, and over the North’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Excluded from the most recent round of talks with the North — which included only North Korea, the United States and host China — Japan has withdrawn to the sidelines.

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