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Visiting Pence calls U.S.-Japan alliance a ‘cornerstone’ for peace in region amid North Korea threat

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Staff Writer

Visiting U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday declared his country’s “unwavering commitment” to Japan as it looks to confront the “ominous threat” posed to the region by the North Korean regime.

Speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Pence said, “The alliance between the United States and Japan is the cornerstone of peace and security in northeast Asia.”

“We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan,” Pence told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We are with you 100 percent.”

Amid soaring tensions over Pyongyang’s threat to conduct another nuclear test, the two leaders made a point of agreeing to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance. They also vowed to again urge Beijing to play “a bigger role” in dealing with the North Korean threat.

Pence, who arrived with his wife and two daughters earlier in the day at the U.S. Navy’s Atsugi air base in Ayase, Kanagawa Prefecture, as part of a 10-day trip to Asia, said, “Peace comes through strength” and the U.S. stands by Japan and other allies in the region.

“The U.S. will continue to work with Japan, with all of our allies in the region, including South Korea, to confront the most ominous threat posing to this region of the world — the regime in North Korea,” he said at a separate news conference later in the day.

“Our commitment is unwavering and our resolve could not be stronger,” he said.

Pence and Abe held a 60-minute working lunch, followed by a 35-minute session between the two and several close aides, according to Japanese officials.

During the luncheon, Pence told Abe that his Asian diplomatic tour was designed to highlight the U.S. commitment to the region, according to a senior Japanese official who briefed reporters.

Abe told Pence he appreciated the U.S. announcement that “all options are on the table” to deal with the North Korean threat, a phrase that is believed to include military action.

Abe said it was “important to maintain peace through diplomatic talks,” and the two countries needed to put pressure on Pyongyang to “seriously respond” to calls for dialogue, according to the senior official.

Pence and Abe agreed that the two countries will “closely cooperate” and urge more involvement by China in dealing with North Korean issues, the Japanese official said.

The official declined to brief reporters on the second, 35-minute session.

Their meeting followed comments from White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday in Washington that U.S. President Donald Trump will not draw “red lines” on potential military steps regarding North Korea, underlining the U.S. intention to deter the North’s provocative actions through other means.

China is North Korea’s main trading partner, comprising 90 percent of its international trade, including effectively all of its oil exports.

On Wednesday Pence is scheduled to visit the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, to inspect the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force unit there.

Pence’s visit to Yokosuka “will underline the strong ties of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Abe was quoted as saying to Pence.

During the meeting, Pence also thanked Japan for providing “strong support” for the U.S. military forces stationed in Japan.

The two also agreed that it was “indispensable” to strengthen the Japan-U.S. military alliance to maintain peace and stability in the region, the Japanese official said.

Staff writer Tomohiro Osaki contributed to this report.