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Abe, Trump huddle over North Korea missile threat, want Beijing to pressure Pyongyang further

by

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump held a 35-minute teleconference Thursday morning, agreeing to jointly deal with the military threat of North Korea after it fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan a day before.

The two leaders also agreed Beijing should take more action to persuade Pyongyang to stop its nuclear weapons and missile programs beyond just halting imports of coal from North Korea, a senior Japanese official told reporters.

“China has already taken action concerning its coal imports. But they agreed that is not sufficient,” the official said during a media briefing about the Trump-Abe conversation.

The teleconference was originally proposed by the Japanese side to discuss North Korean issues, the official said.

The conservation took place one day before Trump will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Tokyo apparently aimed to show off its close ties with the Trump administration before the Xi-Trump meeting.

“We had an exchange of in-depth views,” Abe separately told reporters minutes after he finished the teleconference.

The two leaders agreed that Wednesday’s test-firing of a ballistic missile by Pyongyang is “a very dangerous provocative action” and poses “grave security threat” to Japan, Abe said.

“Tomorrow, the U.S.-China summit meeting will be held in a situation like this. I told (the president) that Japan is closely watching how China will deal with issues involving North Korea,” Abe added.

China is widely regarded as a key player in influencing Pyongyang, as 90 percent of North Korea’s international trade is with China, including effectively all of its oil imports.

Japan, the U.S. and many other countries have long urged China to put more pressure on the North to stop its nuclear arms and missile programs, but Beijing has claimed its influence is limited and it has been reluctant to slap stronger economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

“President Trump then said all options are on the table, which is a very strong statement,” Abe said.

In recent weeks top U.S. officials repeatedly said “all options are on the table” in dealing with North Korea, a phrase widely interpreted as including the military option.

The rhetoric, a clear departure from the “strategic patience” policy under former U.S. President Barack Obama toward North Korea, has been welcomed by Japanese officials, who hope it will help deter Pyongyang from taking reckless military actions against Japan, the United States or South Korea.

During the phone conversation, Trumped reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend Japan based on Japan-U.S. security arrangements, promising to give Japan “100 percent support,” the senior Japanese official said.

Based on the Japan-U.S. security treaty, the U.S. is obliged to jointly defend Japan should an area under Japan’s administration be attacked by a third country. In return, Tokyo is obliged to allow the U.S. to station its forces in Japan.