Japan, the United States and South Korea must still closely watch North Korea despite Pyongyang’s recent gestures of detente, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen agreed Friday.
During their 30-minute meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Mori and Cohen shared the view that close teamwork by the three nations led to Pyongyang’s recent diplomatic overtures and that the tripartite framework must be well maintained, a Foreign Ministry official told reporters.
Cohen arrived in Tokyo on Thursday night after a three-day visit to South Korea, which followed his trip to the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.
The U.S. defense chief told Mori that North Korea’s military still remains very active, carrying out more training than last year and making brisk movements around the demilitarized zone, the official said.
“North Korea has not in any way diminished its military capability, and in fact, they have intensified them,” he told reporters earlier in the day at the U.S. Embassy. “They’ve trained harder this past year than years previously. So they have an increased state of readiness.”
Cohen also told Mori that Washington will not provide long-term economic aid to North Korea unless the country changes its nature and works toward eliminating the threats it poses to the international community.
In the morning news conference, Cohen reaffirmed the importance of the U.S. military presence in Japan and South Korea, despite the hope for better Seoul-Pyongyang ties after the June summit between the top leaders of the two Koreas.
Cohen reiterated his position that the United States should maintain its military capability in Northeast Asia, saying, “There are still many dangers to contend with” on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean President Kim Dae Jung has “both privately and publicly” expressed his view that he expects the U.S. to maintain its presence in his country, he said, quoting the South Korean president as saying North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has expressed his understanding on this point.
During the briefing, Cohen referred to recent protests by municipalities around U.S. bases in Japan over night landing practices.
He said that although “most NLP drills are conducted on Iwojima so they do not inconvenience the people who live near bases,” weather and other circumstances had forced the navy to change practice locations from the remote island.
The drills were shifted to bases in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
The Defense Facilities Administration Agency recently asked the navy to use Iwojima more frequently because a large part of its recent night landing practice has been carried out at mainland Japan bases.
“I regret the inconvenience the recent change of training sites may have caused to the people, but I assure you that we will continue our effort to be good neighbors,” Cohen said.
He said he can understand anti-U.S. military sentiment, which has been increasing recently especially in South Korea, but said officials in Japan and South Korea agree “the United States must continue to play an important role for security and stability in the region.”
Later in the day, Cohen also met with Defense Agency chief Kazuo Torashima over lunch, during which Torashima mentioned the recent arrest of a Self-Defense Forces officer who allegedly leaked defense information to a Russian military attache.
Torashima told Cohen that the agency is doing its utmost to prevent further incidents of espionage.
They did not discuss the demand from Okinawa for a 15-year limit to the U.S. military’s use of a new joint-use airport in the northern part of the prefecture that will be a relocation site for helicopter operations now based at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station.
Local officials say the time limit is a precondition for accepting construction of the new facility.
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