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INSERT FOCUS: Abe gaining stronger presence in Koizumi...

TOKYO, Nov. 26 Kyodo

An hard-liner against North Korea has been gaining a stronger presence in the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi since he accompanied the premier to Pyongyang for landmark talks with the North's leader Kim Jong Il in September.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, 48, was one of the first politicians to insist on the early salvaging of a North Korean spy ship that sunk off Amami Islands in southwestern Kagoshima Prefecture after a gunbattle with Japanese coast guard vessels late last year, and on punitive measures against North Korea.

Abe has also insisted on a stronger military alliance with the United States after U.S. President George W. Bush labeled North Korea as among ''axis of evil'' countries, along with Iraq, Iran and a few other nations.

Political sources said it was Koizumi on Aug. 30 who asked Abe to accompany him to Pyongyang as an assistant, the same day the prime minister announced his surprise North Korean visit, saying, ''I would like you, a hard-liner, to accompany me.''

Present at the Paekhwawon state guesthouse on the outskirts of Pyongyang, where the Koizumi-Kim meeting took place on Sept. 17, was Kim's interpreter whose entry into Japan had twice been rejected by the Japanese government. Abe had played a key role in those rejections.

The interpreter is seen as an expert on Japan-related postwar compensation problems, and when that was noted by reporters after the meeting, Abe went on to say that special attention should be paid to the interpreter's behavior as a barometer of Kim's true intentions, the sources said.

On first look, Abe seems to be a political moderate with a like demeanor and appearance, but below the surface, he is actually a hard-liner with a conservative, conventional diplomatic philosophy putting emphasis on national interests.

''Abe has a belief that it is a political mission to protect the people's lives and property,'' an aide said.

Abe is a political blue blood whose grandfather was the late Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi who revised the Japan-U.S. security treaty in 1960, while his father was the late Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe.

Five Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in 1978 and who returned home from the North on Oct. 15 were originally scheduled to stay in Japan for one to two weeks, but the government extended their stay to allow them to think about permanent residence in Japan.

That followed Koizumi's acceptance of Abe's argument that the five could not freely express their will on whether they wanted to return to Japan for permanent settlement once they went back to North Korea, the sources said.

The decision has angered North Korea which says Japan has broken its promise by extending the abductees' stay, but U.S. government officials welcomed Abe's judgment, saying the victims should not be returned to their abductors.

However, in addition to the matter of their family members remaining in North Korea, various other thorny problems exist in bilateral normalization talks, such as other possible abductees and North Korea's nuclear development program.

Thus, some political analysts say that Abe's real test, and worth, as a politician in taking the initiative in Japan's North Korean policy almost certainly lies ahead.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Geographic Code:9NORT
Date:Dec 2, 2002
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