Japanese Prime Minister Junichro Koizumi has resisted calls for formal economic sanctions against North Korea, which says it will boycott further six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program. But a new Japanese law that takes effect next month will effectively cut into North Korea's maritime trade with Japan - a significant source for Pyongyang of both cash and consumer goods.
Five million Japanese citizens signed a petition earlier this week calling for formal sanctions against North Korea. On a visit to the northern city of Sapporo Friday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the time for sanctions had not yet arrived.
Mr. Koizumi says he understands the growing calls for sanctions against North Korea, but he believes a combination of dialogue and pressure is the best way to proceed.
The popular demand for sanctions is a reaction to North Korea's refusal to provide full information on Japanese citizens it kidnapped during the Cold War.
Tokyo has resisted imposing sanctions, fearing Pyongyang might retaliate by refusing to resume negotiations over the separate issue of its nuclear program. But earlier this week, the North Koreans announced they would boycott further negotiations anyway. They also said they already possessed several nuclear devices.
Mr. Koizumi warned against acting hastily in hopes of pressuring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. He said the matter must be discussed with Japan's partners in the talks: Russia, China, South Korea and the United States.
While he was urging caution, senior officials of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party took a more hard-line approach. Acting LDP Secretary-General Shinzo Abe addressed reporters in Tokyo.
Mr. Abe said there is no need to refrain from imposing economic sanctions against North Korea. He says the conditions "are ripe."
Tatsuo Kawabata, general secretary of the opposition Democratic Party, agreed, calling North Korea's new position "a grave threat to global security."
Even as the Japanese debate formal sanctions, however, an indirect form of economic penalty is likely to be imposed against the North next month. A new Japanese law will require vessels from certain countries to be insured against shipwreck. Since few if any North Korean ships have such insurance, this will give the Japanese an opportunity to turn the vessels away.
Despite the two countries not having diplomatic ties, North Korean merchant shipping to and from Japan is a significant source of both cash and consumer goods for Pyongyang. The ships bring in seafood and mushrooms, and take back used cars and second-hand machinery, which are sold or passed out as presents in the North.
The five countries that have held three rounds of talks with North Korea all continue to react calmly to Pyongyang's latest blast of defiance, saying the six-party talks are still the best vehicle for resolving the issue of the North's nuclear program.
On Friday, a North Korean delegate to the United Nations revived a long-standing call for face-to-face talks with the United States, but Washington once again turned that idea down.