WASHINGTON — Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono pressed the Trump administration Wednesday to remember Japanese interests in talks with North Korea.
Kono met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, according to Toshihide Ando, deputy press secretary for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Kono reminded Bolton and Pompeo that North Korea doesn’t always live up to its agreements, Ando said. Japan wants the United States to pressure North Korea on three key issues: Abolishing the North’s nuclear weapons program; disbandment of the nation’s short-, medium- and long-range missile production; and the return of Japanese citizens who have been captive in the hermit nation since the 1970s.
“We have to remember past mistakes,” Ando said, referring to previous agreements that North Korea has broken with other countries. “Today (Kono, Bolton and Pompeo) agreed to press North Korea for complete action of dismantlement of North Korean weapons of mass destruction in a complete verifiable and irreversible manner — and they also agreed on the abduction issue.”
North Korea’s diplomatic overtures this year, offering to discuss its nuclear weapons program in return for economic aid, have resulted in the first-ever face-to-face meetings between the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and several other national leaders in the region. So far, he has not met with top leaders of Japan.
Kim met in recent months with Chinese President Xi Jinping, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Last summer he was visited by Russian President Vladimir Putin. But Kim has held no direct talks with Japan.
Kim offered to meet with President Trump in Singapore on June 12, and Trump accepted. But it’s not clear if that meeting will take place.
“We will know next week about Singapore,” Trump told reporters at the White House, the day after acknowledging that there’s a “very substantial chance” the summit will be canceled.
“The Japanese are worried they’re being left behind,” said Frank Jannuzi, CEO of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, who traveled recently to Japan with a Congressional delegation that met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Japan was included in previous rounds of nuclear talks with the North, which were known as the Six-Party Talks and included China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and the U.S.
Ando said that Japan is looking forward to the result of the Trump’s planned summit with Kim.
Abe ran for office on a pledge to return Japanese citizens from North Korea that Japan says were abducted and forced to provide language training and other services. At an April summit in Mar-a-Lago with Trump, Abe raised the issue of 12 Japanese citizens confirmed to be in North Korea.
That number is far smaller than the 883 missing Japanese citizens that the North is suspected of holding since the 1940s, according to the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, a group based in Tokyo.
The North released three Americans earlier this month in an effort to improve conditions for a proposed June meeting between Trump and Kim.
The North Koreans are wary of returning the 12 abductees because they want to be sure that settles the issue with Japan, Jannuzi said.
Takehiro Shimada, a spokesman for Japan’s embassy in Washington, said his government’s official position is that North Korea should return those 12 abductees. “If they show us other victims that would be welcome,” Shimada said.
Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s minister for the abduction issue, told USA TODAY on May 4 that Japan is prepared to deal directly with the North, to normalize relations and provide financial assistance, but that outcome depends on the return of all abductees.
Trump on Tuesday said Japan, together with South Korea and China, would help North Korea develop economically if the North abandons its nuclear weapons program.
Referring to conversations he’s had with leaders from all three countries, Trump said: “They will be willing to help and, I believe, invest very, very large sums of money into helping to make North Korea great.”
Ando said Japan would not agree to such investment “until we see concrete action” on North Korean disarmament and abductees.