TOKYO — Japan on Thursday urged North Korea to take “concrete action” on nuclear disarmament following a landmark deal, but refused to lift economic sanctions against its communist neighbor.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda cautiously welcomed Pyongyang’s pledge to declare its nuclear programs and disable its main atomic reactor by the end of the year, but said words must be matched by action.
“I hope North Korea will take concrete action based on the agreement,” he told parliament following the six party deal unveiled late Wednesday.
North Korea “agreed to disable all its existing nuclear facilities” as the next step in an agreement reached by the six parties in February, according to a copy of the text.
Japan’s government said it would maintain sanctions against the impoverished communist state because of a lack of progress in a row over the kidnapping of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, led by Fukuda, on Thursday gave its backing for a six-month extension of a ban on imports from North Korea as well as visits by its ships.
The measures are expected to be approved by the cabinet next Tuesday before they go to a vote in parliament, the party said.
Japan imposed the sanctions after North Korea conducted its first nuclear bomb test a year ago.
The measures were extended by another six months until October 14 to pressure the North to resolve the dispute over its kidnapping of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.
Wednesday’s six-party statement said Pyongyang was tasked with improving its troubled relations with Japan and resolving issues left over from an “unfortunate past” — an apparent reference to Japan’s wartime occupation of the Korean peninsula and the kidnapping of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang.
The deal was sealed in Beijing at a meeting of China, the United States, the two Koreas, Russia and Japan.
Fukuda, who replaced Shinzo Abe as premier last month, has emphasized the need for dialogue with Kim Jong-il’s regime in Pyongyang, in contrast to his predecessor who built his political career on acting tough on the North.
But there remains strong public resentment in Japan against North Korea’s refusal to earnestly discuss the abduction issue, which Pyongyang insists has been already resolved.
In 2002, Kim’s regime admitted that North Korean agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese civilians, including a 13 year-old school girl, to train spies in Japanese language and culture.
It has returned five of them, along with their spouses and children, but claims the eight other kidnap victims, including the girl, are dead — without providing convincing evidence.
Japan believes the other eight, as well as more kidnapped Japanese, are still alive but kept under wraps, probably because they know North Korea’s secrets.