Abe charges in

Less than a week after the Fukuda government announced a new approach to the North Korea problem, Abe Shinzo, self-appointed defender of the abductees, has charged into the fray to criticize Yamasaki Taku, head of a Diet members’ group advocating a normalized relations with North Korea. Mr. Abe claimed that Mr. Yamasaki’s comments have diluted the government’s bargaining power in the midst of negotiations.

Responding to Mr. Yamasaki’s dismissing his thinking as “infantile,” Mr. Abe admonished Mr. Yamasaki to “think and act in the national interest.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Abe also admonished the government (and the US) not to act unless North Korea moves substantially first.

Mr. Abe and his conservative colleagues are undoubtedly displeased with a foreign ministry announcement Wednesday. The foreign ministry declared that the Japanese government would view the launch of a reinvestigation into the abductions issue by North Korea as “progress,” a far lower bar for lifting sanctions than the conservatives want. I will be curious to see who stands up to question Machimura Nobutaka and Saiki Akataka (head of MOFA’s Asia-Pacific bureau) in the lower house’s ad hoc committee on the abductions problem at a hearing being held today. Will LDP conservatives rake the government over the coals?

It will also be curious to see what Christopher Hill, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, will say when he arrives in Japan today for talks — especially in light of Secretary of State Rice’s statement Wednesday that she expects North Korea to declare its nuclear weapons program “soon.”

By lowering the bar on what constitutes progress, is MOFA clearing the way to assist the US on the nuclear question? And will Prime Minister Fukuda survive the storm of criticism that will greet such a move?

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