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Gov’t officials differ in opinion of DPRK announcement of nuclear, missile test suspension

Japanese government officials differ in their opinion of North Korea’s announcement of suspension of nuclear and ICBM experiments. Most Kantei officials were positive in their comments. This probably reflects their desire to highlight tangible diplomatic results amid sagging cabinet support ratings in opinion polls conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun and other media outlets.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga welcomed this move at a news conference on April 23. He stated: “[North Korea] has taken the first step in the direction we envisioned. We hope that this will lead to concrete actions toward the discarding of nuclear arms and missiles.” He pointed out that “this was the result of the Prime Minister’s taking the lead in applying pressure with President Donald Trump” to emphasize Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s diplomatic achievement.


So far, the Abe cabinet’s support ratings have tended to rise in conjunction with major diplomatic events. However, a public opinion poll conducted by Yomiuri on April 20-22 showed that despite the poll being held right after the Japan-U.S. summit, the support rating dropped 3 percentage points to 39%. The respondents were divided in their opinion of the summit, 45% positive and 42% negative.


A Kantei source said that, “Making President Trump commit to raising the abduction issue at the U.S.-DPRK summit was a major diplomatic achievement, but the people might not have fully understood the significance.”


Within the government, officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense were mostly skeptical about North Korea’s announcement. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera was critical, saying: “This is not satisfactory.” Foreign Minister Taro Kono agreed with him, noting: “This is premised on [North Korea] possessing nuclear arms and there was no mention of elimination of nuclear weapons.”


North Korea’s declaration did not indicate any road map to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible discarding of all ballistic missiles, including the short- and long-range ones capable of attacking Japan that Japan is demanding. A senior Liberal Democratic Party official observed that, “This must be the reflection of Kantei’s anxiety in light of the declining support ratings. The past mistake of allowing North Korea to develop nuclear arms and missiles behind the dialogue should not be repeated,” voicing his concern.


Meanwhile, certain government officials suggested that, “Suga and others who are aiming at realizing a Japan-DPRK summit might be sending a positive message to North Korea.”

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