Tokyo, Washington, Seoul affirm cooperation over Pyongyang

Kyodo, JIJI, Staff Report

The leaders of Japan, the United States and South Korea staged a united front against North Korea on Tuesday, calling for a strong new U.N. Security Council resolution over Pyongyang’s rocket launch Sunday and nuclear test last month.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held separate telephone talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in which the leaders affirmed trilateral coordination over Pyongyang, senior Japanese officials said.

In a 35-minute conversation with Obama, Abe reportedly told his U.S. counterpart that the launch Sunday of a “long-range ballistic missile” poses a direct and serious threat to Japan and the United States. His words were relayed to reporters by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko.

Abe told Obama that Japan plans to tighten its own penalties against North Korea as a way of resolving not only the nuclear and missile issues but also Pyongyang’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

Tokyo imposed sanctions on North Korea in 2006, but it relaxed a travel ban and restrictions on cash transfers in 2014 to reward Pyongyang for looking into the fates of the abductees.

At that time, Japan allowed North Korean ships on humanitarian missions to make port calls in Japan and relaxed reporting requirements for money transfers to North Korea, on top of allowing North Koreans to travel to Japan.

Possible options now under consideration will include expanding restrictions on remittances and reimposing a travel ban, sources said.

The international community must make “every effort to put the brakes on Pyongyang’s dangerous, provocative acts,” Seko quoted Abe as saying.

Abe said he wants to speed up work on a “swift adoption of a strong resolution.” He called for greater trilateral cooperation with Washington and Seoul.

On Sunday, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting in which it condemned North Korea’s actions. It has yet to produce a resolution following the underground nuclear test in January, which Pyongyang said was of a hydrogen bomb.

Obama told Abe that the Security Council must adopt a resolution without delay, according to Seko. He said the United States remains committed to the defense of Japan and South Korea in the face of North Korea’s provocation and called Washington’s security commitment unshakable.

Obama vowed to use every defense capability, including possibly deploying the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea.

THAAD is a land-based network of missile interceptor batteries. Its rockets are designed to intercept ballistic missiles at points in their arc when they may be at extremely high altitudes.

In a 15-minute conversation with Park, Abe said Japan would support the deployment of THAAD in South Korea. He said he wants to advance security cooperation with Seoul, according to Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda.

Hagiuda quoted Park as agreeing with Abe on the need to aim for a strong Security Council resolution as soon as possible. She also vowed to step up cooperation bilaterally — and trilaterally with Washington — over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

In a related move, the Lower House on Tuesday adopted a resolution strongly condemning the rocket launch. It demands that Pyongyang halt its development of long-range ballistic missiles.

The resolution calls the launch “absolutely impermissible.” The Upper House adopted a similar resolution.

The Lower House resolution also urges Japan, which currently holds a rotating nonpermanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, to press other nations to slap harsher sanctions on North Korea.

The resolution urges the government to impose unilateral sanctions on North Korea over its missile and nuclear programs and the abduction issue.