Japan has extended economic sanctions against North Korea, citing the reclusive country's lack of progress on an international nuclear disarmament agreement. The extension of sanctions comes as six-party nuclear talks continue to stall.
Japan's economic sanctions against Pyongyang will remain in place for another six months. They were first imposed in October 2006 after North Korea infuriated the international community by testing a nuclear device. That same month it also test-fired a long-range missile.
Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, said North Korea has failed to fully account for all of its nuclear activities, as stipulated in an international agreement to end its nuclear program.
Machimura said the sanctions are meant to demonstrate Japan's resolve to seek a comprehensive resolution of the nuclear and missile issues.
He noted that Tokyo is prepared to end part or all of the sanctions if North Korea takes action to resolve those issues, and settle a long-standing abduction dispute that has prevented the two from forging diplomatic relations for decades.
The six party talks on resolving the North Korea nuclear dispute has made progress, but the discussions have stalled pending North Korea's full accounting of its nuclear activities, including the plutonium that was used to power its first nuclear test blast in 2006.
Pyongyang has received energy and economic aid in return for complying with disarmament steps, but has not yet complied with a declaration agreement that was due at the end of 2007.
Tomohito Shinoda is a professor of politics at the International University of Japan. He says Japan is especially sensitive to the threat of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program because it is so close to its militaristic neighbor.
"Many Japanese experts believe that their nuclear weapons could be targeted to American forces in Japan," he said.
In 1998, North Korea shocked the world by launching a long-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan before falling into the ocean. The United States and Japan have been working since then to strengthen Japan's defense mechanisms in case of an attack by North Korea.
A lack of progress on resolving the abduction dispute between North Korea and Japan is another reason why Tokyo is extending the sanctions. Machimura reiterated that Japan would not establish diplomatic relations until the issue is resolved.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that it kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970's and 80's to train its spies. Five have returned to Japan, and Pyongyang says the other eight are dead. Japan says North Korea must provide more information about its citizens, and says others may have been kidnapped, but Pyongyang considers the case closed.