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Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and visiting South Korean Defense Minister Cho Seong Tae agreed Monday that North Korea’s expected membership in the ASEAN Regional Forum will help ease tensions, a Japanese official said.

“It’s good that North Korea is joining the international society in the context of easing tension in the region through dialogue,” Kono was quoted as saying in a meeting with Cho.

Cho agreed with Kono and said North Korea seems to be recognizing the importance of promoting economic exchanges with South Korea through its dialogue with other nations, the Foreign Ministry official told reporters.

Senior officials of the 22-member ARF agreed last week in a Bangkok meeting to accept North Korea as a member during the forum’s annual ministerial meeting scheduled for July 27 in the Thai capital.

Against this backdrop, Kono and Cho reaffirmed that Japan, South Korea and the United States must continue close contact and policy coordination in dealing with North Korea, the official said.

Cho said the trilateral cooperation assisted South Korea to secure the first-ever inter-Korean summit next month, the official said.

Kono expressed hope for the success of the planned summit in Pyongyang between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. “The Japanese people have great interest and expectations of it easing tension on the Korean Peninsula and in Asia,” the official quoted Kono as saying.

Kono reaffirmed Japan’s commitment to “tenaciously continue dialogue” with North Korea, despite the postponement of a second round of negotiations on establishing ties.

Japan and North Korea held a first round of high-level normalization negotiations in Pyongyang in April, marking the resumption of talks that collapsed in 1992.

But North Korea asked Japan to postpone the second round, which the two sides had agreed during the Pyongyang meet to hold in May in Tokyo.

The ARF was created in 1993 under the initiative of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to build confidence in the region.

The 10 ASEAN members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand — form the core of the forum.

The group currently has 12 outside partners — Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Canada, Russia, the U.S., India, Mongolia and the European Union.

Meanwhile, later in the day Cho met with Defense Agency head Tsutomu Kawara and Cho Seong Tae agreed Monday that cooperation between the two countries, as well as with China and Russia, are vital for the stability of northeast Asia.

During the 90-minute talk, Kawara told his counterpart that China holds the key for the Asia Pacific region, while Cho noted that promoting talks with China and Russia is necessary for peace in the Korean Peninsula, according to defense counselor Yoshiki Mine.

Kawara also stressed the importance of the presence of the United States for stability in the Asia Pacific, he added.

Regarding Japan’s defense policies, Kawara told Cho that he plans to include in the nation’s next mid-term defense program that begins next year measures to cope with advanced information technology, biological weapons and securing in-flight refueling functions.

The two also agreed to promote bilateral defense exchange, including exchanges of officers at military academies.

Kawara also invited the music band of Korean Navy to the Self-Defense Force’s festival for anniversary of founding held in November.