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International relations

Japan drops call to 'maximize pressure' on North Korea

Tokyo softens tone in diplomatic report as it seeks dialogue on abductions

Japan no longer describes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's weapons programs as a "grave and imminent threat."   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan has eliminated a call to "maximize pressure on North Korea by all available means" from its annual foreign policy report, Foreign Minister Taro Kono announced on Tuesday.

The softer tone suggests that, to an extent, Tokyo is willing to make concessions to resolve the North's past abductions of Japanese citizens -- long a top priority for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In March, for the first time in 11 years, Japan also refrained from submitting a resolution to the United Nations condemning North Korean human rights abuses, apparently in a bid for dialogue with Pyongyang.

The Japanese government is expected to maintain its support for U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea until Pyongyang accepts complete denuclearization. At the same time, its Diplomatic Bluebook 2019 stresses it is "important for the international community to come together and support the U.S.-North Korea talks."

As North Korea has not conducted nuclear or missile tests since late 2017, the government also removed a description of Pyongyang's weapons programs as a "grave and imminent threat."

As for relations with Seoul, the report describes a "harsh situation due to continuous negative moves by South Korea." Factors behind the strained ties include a court ruling ordering compensation for Korean wartime laborers forced to work for Japanese companies, as well as a dispute over a South Korean vessel's alleged radar lock on a Japanese Self-Defense Force plane.

The report counts China as "one of the most important bilateral relationships" for Japan.

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