Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba left Tuesday for Washington to discuss North Korea, Iran and other major global issues with his counterparts from the Group of Eight countries.
A two-day meeting of the ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States will begin with a working lunch Wednesday, just ahead of the five-day window that North Korea has set to launch what it claims is an observation satellite on a long-range rocket.
On Tuesday, Genba will hold a bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, during which the ongoing talks on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan will be a major topic, in addition to Pyongyang’s launch plan.
Japan and the United States see the rocket launch as a disguised ballistic missile test that one day could carry a nuclear warhead.
Genba has said that Japan, the only Asian country among the G-8 members, wants to lead discussions on North Korea at the multilateral meeting, which will be chaired by Clinton at Blair House, the official U.S. state guest house.
“At the G-8, we’ll work with other nations to show our strong will to call on North Korea to forgo” the rocket launch, Genba told reporters at the prime minister’s office before leaving for Washington. “It’s necessary to work down to the wire.”
Above all else, the G-8 ministers will make last-ditch efforts to have North Korea call off the launch of the three-stage rocket, Japanese officials said.
But given that the North’s decision to proceed with the launch to coincide with celebrations marking the centennial of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung appears increasingly inevitable, their discussions may focus on how to deal with Pyongyang in the coming weeks.
In addition to North Korea, other major global and regional issues the G-8 ministers are expected to discuss include Iran’s nuclear program and the escalating violence in Syria, the officials said.
After the G-8 meeting, Genba is planning to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to discuss how to move some of the U.S. Marines in Okinawa to Guam amid the changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific region.
Genba is scheduled to return to Tokyo on Saturday morning.
General’s visit is delayed
Beijing and Tokyo have postponed until the summer an official visit to Japan by Gen. Guo Boxiong, China’s most senior uniformed military officer, which had been planned for this month, sources familiar with the bilateral relationship said Tuesday.
The rescheduling was linked to North Korea’s controversial plan to launch a rocket-mounted satellite into space between Thursday and Monday, which Japan and many other nations believe is actually a long-range ballistic missile test in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The sources said it was deemed inappropriate for Guo’s visit to take place as scheduled during a time of heightened tensions in the region, with Japan now taking various military measures in case the North Korean rocket veers from its projected trajectory.
Guo, 69, was due to visit as part of high-level military exchanges between the two countries.