Abe, Pence not grinning at N. Korea’s ‘smile diplomacy’

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, left, talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on the premises of the Defense Ministry during an inspection of a PAC-3 interceptor system.

By Kensaku Fujiwara and Seima Oki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersPrime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reaffirmed that their countries intend to apply maximum pressure on North Korea, due to concerns South Korea might be tilting toward closer ties with Pyongyang during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Abe and Pence, who will both attend Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony, are preparing to lean heavily on South Korean President Moon Jae In to ensure Tokyo, Seoul and Washington remain in step on North Korean issues.

“A nuclear-armed North Korea can never be tolerated,” Abe said at a joint press conference after their meeting Wednesday. “As long as North Korea fails to show a sincere attitude and take concrete actions toward its denuclearization, there are no prospects for meaningful dialogue.”

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Abe and Pence displayed their concern over North Korea’s approach, which has encouraged South Korea to hold talks regarding the Pyeongchang Games.

“We will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games,” Pence said.

Firm reminder for Moon

The U.S. vice president’s comments were particularly pointed. He said previous attempts to engage in dialogue with North Korea had resulted in “a cycle of broken promises” by Pyongyang, and pointed out that both Koreas had marched together under the same Korean Peninsula flag at previous Olympics, only for North Korea to later continue its repeated provocations. Pence declared that while he is in South Korea for the Games, he will “remind the world that North Korea is the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet.”

Abe and Pence’s stinging criticism of North Korea’s “smile diplomacy” is aimed at reining in the Moon administration’s rapprochement toward Pyongyang.

While the Japanese and U.S. governments have been spearheading the approach of applying pressure on North Korea, South Korea is considering resuming humanitarian aid to Pyongyang. “If South Korea, the neighboring nation that should be most alarmed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs, makes clear that it is adopting a conciliatory approach, the international net encircling North Korea will loosen,” a senior Japanese government official told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Pence’s decision to visit Japan before attending the Pyeongchang Olympics’ opening ceremony was also designed to reaffirm close Japan-U.S. cooperation before he visits South Korea and to give Moon a stern reminder not to get swept along by a mood of reconciliation. During their talks Thursday, Pence and Moon were expected to confirm the date for the resumption of joint U.S.-South Korean military drills that have been postponed until after the Pyeongchang Games.

Abe will hold talks with Moon on Friday and is set to strongly call for Japan, the United States and South Korea to maintain a united front.

Stop DPRK evading sanctions

How to prevent North Korea from avoiding sanctions is key to putting pressure on the nation.

In a meeting, Abe and Pence discussed the fact that North Korea has conducted “ship-to-ship” smuggling transfers at sea of goods from other countries, such as refined petroleum products. Abe said, “We confirmed we would further reinforce our cooperation regarding North Korea’s [actions of] skirting the sanctions.”

However, a Foreign Ministry official said: “It will take a long time to bring its actions to a halt. It could be a long battle.”

Tokyo and Washington believe that Pyongyang is likely to repeat an act of provocation, such as the resumption of ballistic missile launches, after the Pyeongchang Paralympics, which will be held after the Olympics and finish on March 18.

Most people concerned share the view that North Korea needs to conduct more test launches to complete and field an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system, because it is indispensable for their purposes to establish an advanced technique that allows a nuclear warhead to reenter the atmosphere.

Prior to talks with Abe, Pence visited the Defense Ministry in the Ichigaya district of Tokyo to inspect a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air missile interceptor. A visit to the ministry by a U.S. vice president is extremely rare, suggesting that they aimed to show North Korea the strong alliance between the two nations. Pence said at a joint press conference that the United States is prepared to fully exercise its armed forces’ capabilities in order to protect Japan.Speech

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