Friday, November 03, 2006

Sanctions: What Will Happen if North Korea Cuts a Deal That Doesn't Include the Abductees Issue?

Prime Minister Abe Declares: "Sanctions Will Continue until The Abductees Issue Is Resolved". Or so Yomiuri claims. But did he? This is what Asahi had to say: Prime Minister Abe: Sanctions Will Not Lifted until It Ends Nuclear Activities.

Actually, if you read the articles, you will see that Mr. Abe talked about two sanctions; one, the UNSC Resolution 1718 sanctions focused on North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs (sidebar: Japanese authorities point to the passage "Underlining the importance that the DPRK respond to other security and humanitarian concerns of the international community" in the UNSC Resolution 1718 –preamble as recognition of the abductees issue); and the other, the stronger Japanese sanctions imposed after the July missile test and the more recent nuclear test. However, Yomiuri chose to start the article with the Japan's non-UN sanctions, while Asahi led off with the UN sanctions. You wonder which came first, since they clearly came from the same burasagari shuzai, i.e., (literally) "hanging-onto(-the-briefer) press briefing" that Mr. Abe himself does once a day (sidebar: It is much more accommodating, if less entertaining than the Bush administration's Tom Snow Comedy Central).

Though both articles e roughly the same in content, and made clear distinction between these two sets of sanctions, they decided to lead with different parts of Mr. Abe's press briefing. making the articles spin off in different directions.

This becomes even more obvious if you look at what Mr. Abe actually said about the Japanese sanctions. According to Yomiuri, Mr. Abe said, "We have imposed sanctions because North Korea has not responded with sincerity on the missile test, nuclear test, and abductees issues" and declared that the sanctions would be continued unless there was progress, including the abductees issue. Asahi has Mr. Abe saying more or less the same thing, but the important thing here is that Mr. Abe apparently mentioned all three issues, in sequence. Moreover, the more serious sanctions have been imposed on the occasion of the missile and nuclear tests. So, it is logical to assume that easing of sanctions will also be sequential, and Mr. Abe has said nothing to rule that possibility out. Indeed, it would be difficult for Japan, just because there is no progress on the abductees issue, to keep its own (mostly) missile- and nuclear- test sanctions in place if the rest of the Five, as well as other nations agree to ease up.

What Yomiuri tells us about Mr. Abe's briefing is not untrue. But there is a tinge of truthiness to it. I don't see much beyond a North Korean standstill plus easing of US financial sanctions (quid pro quo for North Korea ceasing and desisting on its criminal activities) that can be done without a drastic change in outlook for the Kim Jong-il regime. But if something beyond such a limited deal develops and there is no progress in sight on the abductees issue, it could turn out that Yomiuri will have positioned itself so that it has no choice but to question the inevitable decisions whatever administration at that point will be making. And if the prime minister making those decisions turns out to be Mr. Abe (if he lasts that long and North Korea bends earlier than I dare hope for), he will be hard put to maintain the sympathies that propelled him to the highest office.

Note: The foreign media seems not to have reported this at all. The BBC merely reported on Foreign Minister Aso's press briefing, which seems to have made no mention of the abductees issue in regard to sanctions. This is clear indication that Mr. Abe's briefing came from the burasagari shuzai, i.e., and not a formal press conference. There should be nothing in principle that keeps foreign correspondents out of Mr. Abe's burasagari, but even the New York Times would be hard put to assign somebody to follow him around all day. Perhaps the foreign media should pitch in and jointly finance a stringer to do that.

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