The Yomiuri ShimbunIn visiting the United States ahead of possible U.S.-North Korea summit talks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will seek to coordinate with U.S. President Donald Trump and confirm unity on issues regarding North Korea.
The Japanese government is wary of being sidelined in denuclearization talks. It is worried that progress without its involvement could allow Pyongyang to retain its short- and intermediate-range missiles, which are capable of hitting Japan — or preclude a resolution to the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea.
Japan is seeking to avoid such outcomes by closely cooperating with the United States.
In telephone talks with Abe on Friday, Trump excitedly explained that he will hold summit talks with North Korea. Abe later told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office, “North Korea has offered to start talks premised on denuclearization. I welcome this change by North Korea.” He also emphasized that, “Japan will continue to address North Korean issues in full cooperation [with the United States].”
Regarding the decisions to hold an inter-Korean summit and then U.S.-North Korea summit talks, a senior Foreign Ministry official said: “Things developed faster than expected. Mr. Trump seems too eager.”
Abe’s visit to the United States was initially expected to take place around the time of a Group of Seven summit meeting in Canada scheduled for June. But with the U.S.-North Korea summit talks likely to take place by May, the prime minister’s visit to the United States will be moved to early April.
Though Abe and Trump have developed a close relationship, Japanese and U.S. national interests sometimes do not align.
A Japanese government source expressed concern, saying, “It’s possible that [U.S.-North Korea negotiations] will only result in the [North’s] abandonment of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, which is the top U.S. worry, whereas the short- and intermediate-range missiles that could hit Japan remain.”
To what extent the abduction issue will be discussed during negotiations is also unclear.
“Japan needs to thoroughly make arrangements with the United States before the U.S.-North Korea summit talks,” said Ichiro Fujisaki, a former ambassador to the United States.
Even if North Korea pledges to abandon its nuclear program during the bilateral talks, its previous broken promises will stoke doubts about its credibility. Under the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework and 2005 and 2007 agreements reached through six-party talks on the North’s nuclear program, Pyongyang received heavy oil and other forms of assistance in return for a pledge to abandon its nuclear weapons development, among other conditions.
“Anyone can say they intend to denuclearize. North Korea needs to take specific actions,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono said at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on Friday.