Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Policy Proposals

2008.02.11 (Mon)

Separating the Abduction Issue from the Denuclearization of North Korea

Will Benefit Neither Japan Nor the United States
(JINF’s Response to the Comment of Ambassador Christopher Hill Concerning the North Korean Problem)
February, 2008

On February 6, 2008 Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and chief U.S. envoy to the Six-Party Talks concerning the denuclearization of North Korea, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On the subject of linking the abductions of Japanese nationals with the removal of North Korea from the SST (State Sponsors of Terrorism) list, Mr. Hill said, “I don’t think it’s in our country’s interests, or Japan’s interests, or anyone’s interest to make these hard linkages in advance.” This comment is unacceptable.

Mr. Hill did not say why linking the two problems would not be in Japan’s interests. However, he may have meant that if the U.S. does link them, i.e., refuses to remove North Korea from the SST list until the abduction problem is resolved or significant progress has been made toward its resolution, North Korea will discontinue any efforts it has made to disclose its nuclear projects and disarm its nuclear facilities, as it agreed to do at the Six-Party Talks; such an eventuality would be against Japan’s interests.

If that is indeed what Mr. Hill meant, we offer the following comment. Progress in denuclearization is of course in Japan’s interests. But for Japan to benefit fully, the abduction problem must be settled in parallel.

Moreover, as we indicated in our proposal “Keep North Korea on State Sponsors of Terrorism List” (issued in January 2008), the Japanese will lose confidence in the U.S. if the latter removes North Korea from the SST list in defiance of Japanese expectations. Such a loss of confidence will endanger the Japan-U.S. alliance, which would not benefit the U.S. In fact, separating the abduction problem and the removal of North Korea from the SST list would work against U.S. interests.

In his testimony, Mr. Hill stated that the U.S. will not lift the designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism until “we have really had very close consultations with the Japanese government.” However consultation and agreement do not mean the same thing. If Japanese confidence in the U.S. is to be maintained, and the Japan-U.S. alliance bolstered, the U.S. must promise not to remove North Korea from the SST list unless Japan agrees. If Mr. Hill was sincere when he said that “we have no interest in strengthening a relationship with North Korea at the expense of a relationship with Japan — none at all,” the U.S. will need to make such a promise.