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U.S. and Japan Agree to a Delay on North Korea Sanctions Vote

Times Staff Writers

Japan and the United States agreed Monday to delay voting on a proposed Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea for its surprise missile tests to give Chinese diplomats visiting the North a chance to work out a solution.

But Japan escalated its tough talk against Pyongyang, with top government officials suggesting that the country’s pacifist constitution permits Tokyo to launch a first strike at missile bases if it faces an imminent attack.

“If we accept that there is no other option to prevent a missile attack, there is an argument that attacking missile bases would be within the legal right of self-defense,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the front-runner to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister this fall.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s office today called Japanese leaders “arrogant and reckless.”

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“It is a serious development that Japanese Cabinet ministers have made a series of comments that justify a possible preemptive strike and the use of military power.... It has unveiled Japan’s expansionist nature,” said presidential spokesman Jung Tae-ho, who also referred to Japan’s past occupation of Korea.

The bickering came as Washington tried to forge a unified position on North Korea.

Some council members had hoped to vote Monday on a resolution that would ban countries from transferring missile-related technology or goods to North Korea, or buying missiles from the regime. But China indicated in weekend negotiations that it considered sanctions a last resort, and would probably veto the measure if it was put forward before the high-level delegation finished its mission to Pyongyang, diplomats said.

“For China, we wish our diplomatic efforts have good results,” said Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya. But he said that “diplomacy takes time,” and that China would be reluctant to support a punitive resolution even if the missiles had been pointed in its direction.

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“We feel that the most important task for the countries in the region, and certainly for the Security Council, is to maintain peace and stability in a politically sensitive region,” he said.

Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu and top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei arrived Monday in North Korea for a six-day visit, officially to celebrate the 45th anniversary of a friendship treaty between the North and their nation.

But the delegation is also expected to leverage China’s role as North Korea’s reluctant protector to bring the isolated regime back to the negotiating table.

For years, China has blocked punitive action by the Security Council partly out of fear that it would have to rescue its neighbor if it collapsed and absorb millions of refugees. Now, Beijing also needs to demonstrate that it still has political influence over North Korea’s leader after Kim Jong Il defied Beijing’s warnings not to proceed with the provocative missile tests last week.

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The U.S. and Japan are pushing North Korea to resume talks with the two of them, South Korea, Russia and China on its nuclear program and to return to a moratorium on missile tests.

But formulating a common response to Pyongyang has been complicated by Japan’s chilled relations with China, South Korea and even Russia, with whom it has territorial disputes and lingering ill will from Tokyo’s militarist past.

None of that will have been eased by the open musings by Abe and other officials about the possibility of launching a preemptive strike.

Although Japan lacks the air capability to do so on its own, the fact that the option is being discussed demonstrates the degree to which hawkish talk has become politically acceptable here in the wake of the missile launches and China’s rising power.

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At U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said Monday that the issue would be examined “on a daily basis” and that although China may have taken on the nettlesome job of dealing with Pyongyang, the burden was on North Korea to save itself.

“I think this is entirely an exercise of Chinese diplomacy. They surely have been embarrassed by these provocative missile launches,” Bolton said. “But the point is we want to keep the spotlight on ... Pyongyang, which is the source of this problem.”

He added later, “If Chinese diplomats don’t succeed, we would certainly hope that China would agree to join the resolution.”

China circulated a compromise “presidential statement,” a step weaker than a legally binding resolution, that expressed the unanimous concern of the council about North Korea’s missile tests and the “serious negative implications for international peace and security.”

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Farley reported from the United Nations and Wallace from Tokyo. Times staff writer Barbara Demick in Seoul also contributed to this report.


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