U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with top officials in Tokyo on Sunday and Monday, reinforcing the U.S. commitment to defend Japan and South Korea against North Korea while stressing at the same time that Washington is willing to negotiate if Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearization.
Kerry met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday for more than an hour. North Korea’s belligerent diplomacy was at the top of their agenda, a senior Japanese official said.
The secretary of state, who arrived Sunday after visiting Seoul and Beijing, told Abe that both China and South Korea are committed to trying to get North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program, the official said.
Kerry met with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday. During a joint news conference afterward, Kerry said the U.S. will defend its allies Japan and South Korea against any provocative actions by the North.
“But our choice is to negotiate. Our choice is to move to the table and find a way for the region to have peace,” Kerry said after his 1½-hour meeting with Kishida.
“We can find a way to resolve these differences at the negotiating table. I hope they will hear that. I hope they will respond to that,” he said. “Any other choice by them will simply further isolate them in the world and make it clear to the rest of the world where the problem really lies.”
Kerry’s first Asian trip as secretary of state came as South Korea, Japan and the U.S. are on high alert against a possible ballistic missile launch by North Korea as well as its verbal threats to start a war with the U.S., South Korea and Japan.
During the meeting, Abe also stressed to Kerry that Japan’s position on the diplomatic row over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea is unchanged, according to Japanese officials.
Both at meetings with Abe and Kishida, Kerry gave assurances that the U.S. position is also unchanged, that the Japan-U.S. security treaty would be applied to foreign attacks on the Senkakus, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.
“The U.S., as everybody knows, does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands. But we do recognize that they are under the administration of Japan,” Kerry said after meeting with Kishida. “We oppose any unilateral or coercive action that would somehow aim at changing the status quo.”
Saying Japan’s door for talks with China is always open, Kishida added: “We on our side will make every effort toward this end and we would like to also see that the relevant countries understand Japan’s position and support Japan as well.”
On plans for U.S. military bases in Okinawa, Kerry praised the recent progress Japan has made on the long-stalled relocation of the Futenma airfield from densely populated Ginowan.
The government in March filed a land-reclamation application with the Okinawa governor to start a landfill operation in preparation for building a replacement facility farther north on the main island.
Kerry welcomed Abe’s formal announcement in March that Japan wants to join the U.S.-led talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japan and the U.S. reached a preliminary agreement Friday allowing Tokyo into the process.
“Clearly, having Japan in the TPP would be an enormous economic benefit for all of us,” he said. “Japan and the other countries in the TPP together with the U.S. would represent 40 percent of (global) GDP. That is a critical mass when it comes to economic standards.”