More stress headed Fukuda’s way

Prime Minister Fukuda held a press conference Tuesday with journalists from foreign wire services at which he said in response to a question about whether it is fun being prime minister, “It’s not fun! It’s like a painful lump.” To deal with stress, he told the reporters that he sleeps and drinks wine.

Little wonder that Mr. Fukuda is feeling stressed.

In the days since Machimura Nobutaka announced the tentative agreement reached with North Korea, Mr. Fukuda has faced the predictable uproar from the right.

On Tuesday, Hiranuma Takeo, chairman of a Diet members’ league on the abductions problem and member (controversially) of Nakagawa Shoichi’s conservative study group, visited the Kantei to appeal to Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura on lifting sanctions. There should be no relief to North Korea without the recognition of concrete progress, he said.

The government will likely bend to their demands. Mr. Fukuda acknowledged Monday that the success of the agreement will depend on North Korea’s follow through. That said, the conservatives haven’t won yet. The meaning of “concrete action” is disputed. It is unclear what North Korea can do to please the conservatives (who may in fact prefer that the issue drags on); “realists” like Yamasaki Taku, head of a Diet members’ league for the promotion of normalization of Japan-North Korea relations, seem willing to lower the bar. Mr. Yamasaki wants the abductions issue to be resolved within the year. In between Mr. Hiranuma and Mr. Yamasaki is the group for the promotion of a prudent North Korea policy, which supports a carrots-and-sticks approach to North Korea. Yamamoto Ichita, a member of the group, reports that it delivered a list of demands to Mr. Fukuda on Tuesday. Like Mr. Hiranuma, they do not want Japan to lift any sanctions until North Korea has made clear progress on its reinvestigation (again, clear progress is left undefined). They want the government to make clear to Washington that the Japanese government does not want the US to remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list yet. They continue to oppose normalization until progress is made on all fronts: abductions, missiles, and nukes.

In addition to pressure from within his own party, Mr. Fukuda also faces pressure from the public, which is circumspect about the new agreement. A Mainichi poll found that 34% of respondents “value” the government’s agreement, while 55% do not value it. Considering that 88% of respondents in the government’s latest foreign policy survey were concerned about the abductions issue (more than any other area of contention with North Korea), that’s actually not terrible. If North Korea actually follows through — at least enough to allow the government to argue that there’s been progress — the agreement might eventually enjoy a plurality of support, if not an outright majority.

Time to send some more wine over to the Kantei.

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