TOKYO — America’s top diplomat said Saturday that the U.S. will coordinate with allies Japan and South Korea on efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on the eve of the American’s fourth visit to North Korea. Pompeo is looking to arrange a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and to chart a path toward denuclearization.
Japan has been wary of Trump’s initiative, fearing it could affect Japan’s long-standing security relationship with the U.S. Japanese foreign-policy experts worry that Washington could cut a deal that limits Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile program but leaves North Korea with shorter-range missiles that could strike Tokyo.
In addition, the Japanese government is demanding that North Korea come clean about the fate of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, an issue that incites considerable concern among the Japanese public.
In the meeting with Abe, Pompeo said Japan’s concerns would be addressed and that he wanted to make sure the two countries were “fully in sync” with regard to missile programs, as well as chemical and biological weapons.
“We will bring up the issue of the abductees as well,” Pompeo said. “And then we will share with you how we hope to proceed when we are in Pyongyang tomorrow. So we will have a fully coordinated, unified view of how to proceed, which will be what is needed if we are going to be successful on denuclearizing North Korea.”
Pompeo plans to make later stops in South Korea and China to review the negotiations with North Korea.
Trump is pressing to again meet with Kim after their June summit in Singapore produced an agreement on denuclearization with few, if any, specifics. Despite the historic meeting, the two sides are deadlocked over how to achieve that goal. As the talks stalled, Trump in August canceled initial plans for Pompeo to visit North Korea.
After a summit between the leaders of the two Koreas last month, Kim said he was prepared to permanently dismantle his country’s main nuclear site at Yongbyon, but only if the United States took “corresponding steps” to build trust.
At the time, it appeared that meant a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, as a signal that hostilities between the two countries were over. But during the past few days, North Korea appears to have increased its demands, signaling that it may also want an easing of sanctions before moving forward.
In contrast with South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in has been at the forefront of encouraging Trump’s rapprochement with the North, Japan has been decidedly cautious, insisting its interests and concerns be addressed.
Abe did not speak of differences but highlighted the importance of demonstrating to the world that the U.S.-Japan alliance is “more robust than ever.” He also stressed the importance of “thorough coordination” with the U.S. on all aspects of North Korea policy.
The U.S. and Japan have pushed for the North to compile and turn over a detailed list of its nuclear sites to be dismantled; the North has rejected that.
Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, said the accounting continues to be a priority for his country.
“Disclosing all nuclear inventories is the first step toward denuclearization,” he told reporters after Pompeo wrapped up his meeting in Tokyo.
Kono said he and Pompeo didn’t go into details of a possible war-ending declaration because it’s premature while there is virtually no progress on denuclearization.
“We are not even talking about whether to do it or not,” he said. “It’s not an issue that we are even considering.”
Many believe that such a declaration could reinforce North Korea’s demands for the U.S. to withdraw its forces from South Korea and Japan.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told The Washington Post last week that Seoul believed a list of nuclear sites could spark a long argument between Pyongyang and Washington over verification, which would not be conducive to building trust.
Instead, she said, Seoul favors a “different approach,” where each side takes “chunks of action” to build trust, such as the dismantling of Yongbyon in return for U.S. steps such as an end-of-war declaration.
While traveling to Asia, Pompeo said his mission was to “make sure that we understand what each side is truly trying to achieve … and how we can deliver against the commitments that were made” in Singapore.
“Each side has to develop sufficient trust so they can take the actions necessary to get to the end,” he said, adding he was also trying to set up the next Trump-Kim summit.
“So we hope to, at least — I doubt we will get it nailed — but begin to develop options for both location and timing for when Chairman Kim will meet with the president again,” he said. “Maybe we will get further than that.”
Pompeo has distanced himself from an earlier stated goal of achieving North Korea’s nuclear weapons abandonment by the end of Trump’s term in January 2021.
Since the effort got underway with a secret visit to the North by then-CIA chief Pompeo in April, there has been a reduction in tensions but only limited progress toward denuclearization.
North Korea has suspended nuclear and missile tests, freed three American prisoners and dismantled parts of a missile engine facility and tunnel entrances at a nuclear test site. It has not taken any steps to halt nuclear weapons or missile development.
The North also has accused Washington of making “unilateral and gangster-like” demands on denuclearization and insisted that sanctions should be lifted before any progress is made in nuclear talks. U.S. officials have thus far said sanctions will remain in place until the North’s denuclearization is fully verified.
In an editorial on Thursday, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea, argued that the United States should not focus on maintaining sanctions but instead on building confidence between the two nations “with a sincere attitude.”
“The U.S. invented the sanctions against the DPRK under unreasonable pretexts and tries to keep them at a time when the pretexts are removed,” it wrote, accusing Washington of “brigandish and frivolous” misbehavior. North Korea refers to itself as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Washington and Pyongyang, it wrote, are “kindling a glimmer” of hope for the improvement of ties, adding that “It is high time that each side makes efforts towards trust-building.”
Information for this article was contributed by Mari Yamaguchi and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press and by Simon Denyer of The Washington Post.
A Section on 10/07/2018
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