July 10, 2006

Japan eases pressure for immediate vote on N.Korea

By George Nishiyama

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan backed off its plan to push for a
vote on North Korean sanctions at the U.N. Security Council on
Monday in the face of continued efforts by regional powers to
resolve a missile crisis through direct diplomacy.

The resolution is opposed by China -- Pyongyang's biggest
ally -- and Moscow, which both have veto power.

South Korea has also said sanctions would be ineffective
against its reclusive communist neighbor, which test-fired a
barrage of missiles last week.

"The vice minister of China is going to North Korea to
persuade them. Under such circumstances, there is no need to
insist on a vote on the 10th," Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi told reporters.

A Chinese delegation, including Vice Foreign Minister Wu
Dawei, who is in charge of Beijing's diplomacy with North
Korea, arrived in Pyongyang on Monday for a six-day visit.

Koizumi said Japan would still seek an early U.N. vote and
was opposed to switching its proposal to a non-binding
chairman's statement, which is likely to win support from China
and Russia.

"It should be a clear-cut resolution," he said.

Koizumi spoke after Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy on
North Korea, held talks with Japanese officials.

"We want to make it very clear that we are all, all,
speaking with one voice on this provocative action by the North
Koreans," Hill told reporters.

Hill said Tokyo and Washington were cooperating closely,
but he declined to comment when asked if Japan should go ahead
and seek a vote on the resolution on Monday. "U.S.-Japan
cooperation in this regard is truly excellent," Hill said.

Russia and China could decide to abstain and allow the U.N.
resolution to pass, but Beijing has said the lack of unanimity
would send a weak signal.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said China had
a big role to play as host of six-party negotiations to
persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms program.

The talks, which bring together the two Koreas, China, the
United States, Russia and Japan, have stalled since November.

"China, as the host, has a very heavy responsibility and we
would like them to fulfill that responsibility," he said.


Abe, known for his tough stance toward both North Korea and
regional rival China, is a leading candidate to replace Koizumi
when he steps down in September. Foreign Minister Taro Aso is a
dark horse candidate to be Japan's next leader.

Analysts say Japan's tough stance toward Pyongyang in part
reflected efforts by Koizumi's would-be successors to woo
voters who largely favor strong steps in response to the
missile tests.

The missile tests have also rekindled a debate over whether
Tokyo should develop the capability to make pre-emptive strikes
and whether these would violate its pacifist constitution.

U.S. envoy Hill echoed the call to resume the six-party
talks soon, but said Washington was willing to have discussions
without Pyongyang if the North refused to return to the table.

China is exasperated with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,
but experts think it is unlikely to heed Washington calls to
squeeze North Korea's economic and security lifelines.

Hill questioned how much clout China had over Pyongyang.

"I must say the issue of China's influence on the DPRK
(North Korea) is one that concerns us, because China said to
the DPRK, 'Don't fire those missiles', and the DPRK fired
them," he told reporters.

Japan's ties with China and South Korea have already been
chilled by disputes stemming in part from resentment in the two
countries of Tokyo's role in World War Two.

On Sunday, South Korea's presidential Blue House criticized
Japan's response to the missile launch, saying on its official
there was "no reason to particularly make a fuss."

That provoked a tart expression of displeasure from Abe.

"It is certain that the missile launches are a threat to
Japan, and so it is natural that we respond with a feeling of
crisis," Abe said.

South Korea plans to go ahead with previously scheduled
North-South ministerial talks in the southern port city of
Pusan from Tuesday, but it said there was no confirmation of
attendance by the North.

The talks were originally set to discuss economic matters.

"At this round of the ministerial talks, we will make sure
the agenda is the missile issue and six-party talks, and will
hold off on fertilizer, food and that type of issue," said Song
Min-soon, President Roh Moo-hyun's top national security

(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies, Chisa Fujioka, Isabel
Reynolds in Tokyo and Jack Kim in Seoul)