Reports: US wants to limit Japan’s contact with North Korea

Posted on : 2014-07-17 17:19 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
A N. Korea visit by PM Shinzo Abe could follow, which Washington says could undermine trilateral cooperation with South Korea

By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent

The US is openly moving to check Japanese contact with North Korea. Indicating that it does not look favorably on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting North Korea, the US even said that, if Abe wants to visit the North, prior notification is not sufficient, it also wants to discuss the visit in due format with Japan. In short, the US appears to have said that it will not permit Abe to visit the North.

During a telephone conversation with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on the evening of July 7, US Secretary of State John Kerry strongly discouraged Japan’s overtures to North Korea, the Mainichi Shimbun and other Japanese newspapers reported on July 16. During the conversation with Kishida, which lasted for about 40 minutes, Kerry observed that the US and Japan are allies and asked Japan to maintain transparency in its negotiations with North Korea and to talk about the issue thoroughly in advance, news reports said.

Kerry also said that the US wants sufficient deliberations to take place before any decisions are made about Abe visiting North Korea, and that prior notification is not sufficient, newspapers reported.

Quoting multiple diplomatic sources in the US and Japan on Wednesday, the Tokyo Shimbun reported that Kerry asked Abe to refrain from visiting the North, since there were concerns that this could undermine solidarity between the US, South Korea, and Japan.

“What is the most effective way to get results on the kidnapping issue? One option is visiting North Korea, and we are also going to consider that,” Kishida told the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense at the Japanese House of Councilors on June 3, showing the Abe government’s positive outlook on a visit to the North.

But Kishida backpedaled after hearing Kerry’s cautionary remarks. “The newspapers are just reporting their interpretation of my answers, and the government is not considering having the Prime Minister visit North Korea,” the Mainichi Shimbun reported Kishida as saying.

“We are currently trying to arrange an opportunity to visit the US to explain the situation directly to Secretary Kerry and request his understanding about Japanese efforts to resolve the abductee issue,” Kishida said, as reported on Japanese broadcaster NHK.

The Japanese government has said on several occasions that it regards the abductee issue as being separate from the issue of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. On July 4, Japan ended some of its independent sanctions against North Korea, coinciding with Pyongyang’s launch of a special investigative committee to reopen the case of abducted Japanese. It has also maintained its position that North Korea’s repeated launches of ballistic missiles are separate from the abductee issue.

In related news, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported that Japan will propose talks with the foreign ministers of both North and South Korea during the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which will be taking place in Myanmar in early August. Before former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited North Korea in Sep. 2002, the two sides held Red Cross talks, department head-level talks, and talks between their Foreign Ministers, in that order.

As a result, some experts are speculating that, if a meeting between the Japanese and North Korean Foreign Ministers takes place during the ARF, Prime Minister Abe could visit North Korea around September. However, with the US taking steps to check Japan’s contact with North Korea, it appears that a fierce tug of war will continue between Abe, who hopes to extend his hold on power by finding a solution to the kidnapping issue, and the US, which seeks to maintain trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the US, and Japan on the issue of North Korea.


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