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Japan ramps up sanctions against North Korea for rocket

TOKYO – Japan renewed and strengthened sanctions against North Korea on Friday, but it disagreed with the U.S. over how the U.N. Security Council should censure Pyongyang for its rocket launch.

North Korea says Sunday’s launch was to send a satellite into orbit, but Tokyo, Washington and others call it a cover for a missile test.

Japan’s Cabinet reauthorized and ramped up economic sanctions imposed on the isolated country since a 2006 missile test, by lowering the cap on remittances that must be reported and reducing the amount of money visitors can carry into the North, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura announced.

The old sanctions, which must be renewed every six months, expire on Monday. The latest renewal is good for one year.

“North Korea forced a missile firing, the act that our country finds intolerable,” Kawamura told a news conference. “The additional steps are aimed at monitoring the money flow into the North more closely.”

Japan has also led the charge to reprimand Pyongyang at the U.N., but it seemed to be losing support for a full-fledged resolution on Thursday, as the United States backed off. Washington is concerned such a document could take too long to approve and believes that a statement read aloud by the 15-nation council’s monthly revolving president would provide sufficient legal teeth, council diplomats say.

But even if Japan and the U.S. were to agree on an approach, China and Russia have all but ruled out allowing the council to pass anything more than a press statement that carries no legal weight.

They oppose reaffirming the council’s 2006 resolution, five days after North Korea’s secret test of a nuclear device, that demanded Pyongyang refrain from launching any more ballistic missiles and suspend its ballistic missile testing program.

They also do not want any measure that specifically says, as the U.S., Britain, France, Japan and South Korea believe, that North Korea violated the previous resolution.

The measures passed Friday by Japan renew and extend sanctions Tokyo implemented in the aftermath of that test three years ago. They reduce the amount of remittances that can be sent to North Korea without reporting to the Japanese government to 10 million yen ($100,000) from 30 million yen ($300,000), and slash the amount of money that travelers can bring into the North by more than one-third to 300,000 yen ($3,000).

The measures also renew an import ban and tight restrictions on exports to the North, as well as a ban on selling luxury goods to North Korea, including pricey beef, caviar, alcohol and cars, in accordance with a U.N. resolution.

North Korea, one of the world’s poorest countries, is in desperate need of outside help, particularly since aid that flowed in unconditionally from neighboring South Korea for a decade dried up after President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul in 2008.

Famine is believed to have killed as many as 2 million North Koreans in the mid and late-1990s when natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its centrally controlled economy. The North has since relied on aid to help feed its 23 million people.

However, with trade between the two countries already restricted sharply, additional measures are believed to have little impact on the North and are seen rather as a political tool.

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