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FOCUS: Skepticism growing about effects of pressure on N. Korea

Skepticism is growing about whether increasing pressure on North
Korea would really work to halt its nuclear and missile ambitions,
following Pyongyang's latest launch of a ballistic missile over Japan
on Friday.

Analysts say that even if the international community continues
to impose sanctions on Pyongyang, leader Kim Jong Un is unlikely to
abandon his weapons programs unless Washington guarantees the
country's survival.

To ease tensions and avoid a military conflict in East Asia,
Japan, the United States and South Korea -- which are directly
exposed to threats from North Korea -- should start exploring the
possibility of talks with North Korea, such as by asking a
third-party nation to serve as a mediator, they say.

On Friday, Pyongyang test-fired a ballistic missile that for the
second time in less than a month crossed northern Japan before
landing in the Pacific Ocean, despite multiple sanctions and
condemnation from the international community over its continued
efforts to advance its military capabilities.

North Korea's missile launch came just four days after the U.N.
Security Council unanimously adopted a new sanctions resolution in
punishment for its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3. The
missile would have reached the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam if the
direction had been different.

"We must make North Korea understand that if it continues down
this road, it will not have a bright future," Japanese Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe told reporters after the launch. Echoing his view, Foreign
Minister Taro Kono said Japan wants North Korea to "come to the table
for talks after showing a clear commitment to denuclearization."

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, however, cast doubt on the
effectiveness of previous sanctions on Pyongyang.

"In the situation in which (North Korea) has been completely
ignoring the repeated sanctions resolutions, perhaps what we've been
doing until now hasn't had enough of an effect," Aso told reporters.

Whether the sanctions would have an impact will likely depend on
how much China and Russia, believed to have influence over Pyongyang,
would cooperate with Japan, the United States and South Korea,
Japanese officials say.

Beijing has been the main economic lifeline of Pyongyang that
accounts for about 90 percent of its external trade. Russia has
accepted many laborers from North Korea. So far, they have not fully
aligned themselves with Tokyo, Washington and Seoul, arguing
sanctions alone would not be effective.

After Pyongyang's missile launch on Friday, U.S. Secretary of
State Rex Tillerson urged China and Russia to take "direct actions"
against North Korea, calling them "the principal economic enablers"
of the nation's weapons development programs.

Beijing and Moscow say further sanctions would aggravate the

Troy Stangarone, a senior director at the Korea Economic
Institute in Washington, said, "China and Russia are reluctant to
increase pressure on North Korea too quickly because they fear that
it could precipitate the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang."

China and Russia, which share borders with North Korea, are
worried about a possible refugee crisis, while they have still sought
to protect their economic interests, he said.

As both oppose Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, they
supported the fresh U.N. resolution, including the first restrictions
on exports of crude oil and petroleum products to North Korea.

"But they will likely remain reluctant to cut off oil and other
key supplies until they reach the conclusion that there is no other
option to avoid what they see as the potentially worse option of
North Korean collapse," Stangarone said.

As sanctions on Pyongyang may not function well, some political
experts say Japan should try to pave the way for talks with North
Korea, instead of bolstering pressure.

"The reality is that a nuclear North is with us for the mid- to
long-term and that conditions for dialogue need to be created," said
Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of politics at the
International Christian University in western Tokyo.

Given that Abe has built close ties with U.S. President Donald
Trump, "Japan should support diplomatic engagement at the highest and
lowest levels between Pyongyang and Washington," Nagy said.

Since 2007, talks involving the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan
and the United States, known as the six-party talks aimed at
denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, have stalled. Washington, Tokyo
and Seoul have no diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

If Japan finds it difficult to resume the six-party talks or
assist communication between Washington and Pyongyang, the country
can ask for help from third-party nations that have diplomatic ties
with North Korea, such as Switzerland, Stangarone said.

"North Korea has indicated that it has no desire to return to
the six-party talks, so a new format may be needed where a country
like Switzerland that may be trusted by both sides could play a
role," he said.

Swiss President Doris Leuthard said earlier this month that the
neutral nation is ready to act as a mediator to help resolve the
North Korean issue, according to local media.

Kim studied at an international school in Switzerland in the
1990s. (Sept. 15)

Fishermen work at a port in Kushiro in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on Sept. 15, 2017, after North Korea fired another ballistic missile over Hokkaido earlier the same day, following the Aug. 29 launch. The launch has provoked concern and anger among people across the country. (Kyodo)