Mori's foot in mouth is one gaffe too many

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The Independent US

To Tony Blair, the Japanese Prime Minister's remark might have seemed no more than a casual aside. But yesterday, the accident-prone Yoshiro Mori came under further pressure to resign after blurting out details of secret negotiations with North Korea.

To Tony Blair, the Japanese Prime Minister's remark might have seemed no more than a casual aside. But yesterday, the accident-prone Yoshiro Mori came under further pressure to resign after blurting out details of secret negotiations with North Korea.

At a meeting of the prime ministers on the margins of the Asia-Europe summit in the South Korean capital, Seoul, on Friday, conversation was dominated by talk of North Korea, to which Britain had just announced it would give diplomatic recognition.

Japan, which is close to the Korean peninsula, would like to do the same but is hamstrung by an issue involving 20 or so Japanese who vanished in the Seventies, almost certainly kidnapped by North Korean agents. North Korea refuses to admit any knowledge of the missing people and the Japanese public opposes any warming of relations with Pyongyang until the issue is settled.

For three years, Mr Mori has been considering a resolution to the abductions problem - why not arrange for them to pop up somewhere else? After the meeting with Mr Blair, Mr Mori was quoted as saying: "North Koreans are very concerned about protecting their honour. So we told them they can deal with the Japanese as missing people and say they were found in Peking or Bangkok." Mr Blair's reaction is unrecorded.

Yoshimi Watanabe, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by Mr Mori, said yesterday: "The remark was inappropriate and [Mr Mori] should quit." Nobuteru Ishihara, leader of a group of LDP reformers said: "Mr Mori has damaged the national interest and endangered those abducted by his words."

When questioned about the remark, Mr Mori said it was a "story from the past", adding: "I was just explaining the details." The Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa, said the proposal had come not from Mr Mori but from an LDP bag carrier accompanying Mr Mori to North Korea. As Japan's Minister for Construction, Chikage Ogi, said, "It is strange the Prime Minister's explanation differs from that of the Chief Cabinet Secretary".

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