National / Politics

Kishida, Kerry urges North Korea to end standoff


Japan and the United States called on North Korea on Sunday to stop its provocations, while agreeing to coordinate moves with South Korea in responding to the North’s bellicose rhetoric and military muscle-flexing.

In a meeting in Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also agreed on the need for North Korea to take “concrete steps” toward denuclearization.

The meeting, coming as North Korea ratcheted up tensions by threatening war on the United States and its allies, was meant to highlight the commitment of Japan and the United States to their security alliance and to pressure North Korea to ease tensions.

But in the absence of concrete actions from Japan, the United States and other countries other than their calls for restraint, it remains unclear whether Pyongyang would be willing to listen and persuaded to rein in its behavior.

“We will never condone North Korea possessing nuclear weapons,” Kishida told a news conference after his meeting with Kerry, adding that Japan and the United States will hold senior working-level consultations on the matter.

With North Korea acting belligerently, Kerry told the same news conference that the United States is “fully committed” to defending Japan. He also said the U.S.-Japan bilateral dialogue would start soon and aim at achieving a “peaceful resolution” to the North Korean nuclear issue.

Kerry’s visit to Japan, his first as secretary of state, comes as Japan, the United States and South Korea remain on guard against the possible test-firing of a ballistic missile by North Korea.

Kishida said Japan is intensifying efforts to coordinate moves with the United States and other countries to prevent “unforeseen events” from happening.

Kerry arrived in Japan early Sunday afternoon, on the final leg of a trip to three Asian capitals, after stopping in Seoul and Beijing. He agreed with top Chinese leaders to swiftly start high-level discussions about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

At Sunday’s meeting, both Kishida and Kerry praised the time schedule recently agreed on between the two countries to return parts of U.S. military facilities in Okinawa Prefecture to Japanese control, according to Kishida.

Specifically, Kerry praised the recent progress made in the stalled relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps air base within Okinawa as the Japanese government filed with the Okinawa governor for approval to start reclaiming land needed to build a replacement facility, according to a Japanese official.

Both foreign policy chiefs also agreed on the need to proceed with the transfer of Marine personnel to the U.S. territory of Guam in the Pacific from Okinawa as agreed on as part of the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

With respect to Japan’s desire to join negotiations for a U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, Kerry praised the preliminary agreement reached between Japan and the United States on Friday.

Kishida asked Kerry to cooperate in making sure that the United States and other members in the negotiations will advance the process necessary to approve Japan’s participation, and Kerry showed his understanding, according to the official.

Another issue on the agenda during Sunday’s meeting was the handling of China at a time when Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a dispute over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

At the joint news conference, Kerry said the United States stands by the “principles” that govern the long-standing U.S. policy toward the disputed islands, saying that Washington recognizes the uninhabited islands are under Japanese administration.

“We oppose any unilateral or coercive action that would somehow aim at changing the status quo,” Kerry said, noting actions that could raise tensions or lead to miscalculations affect the peace and stability of the region.

The two top foreign policy chiefs also agreed to hold a first high-level dialogue between the two countries on cybersecurity in Tokyo on May 9-10, while confirming plans to hold a new, separate bilateral dialogue on jointly tackling climate change.

Commenting on a way to lower tensions with North Korea, Kerry expressed his support for South Korean President Park Geun Hye, who has offered to hold a dialogue with North Korea without preconditions.

“I think she has shown great courage in her willingness to try to move in a different direction, providing she has a willing partner to move in that direction with,” Kerry said.

On Monday, Kerry is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo after giving a speech at the Tokyo Institute of Technology about the U.S. “pivot” to Asia under President Barack Obama.

Before visiting China, Kerry stopped in Seoul where the former U.S. senator, in a meeting with President Park Geun Hye, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defending South Korea amid North Korean threats and provocations.

Last Wednesday Kishida and Kerry also met for talks in London, and confirmed that Tokyo and Washington would work closely in responding to North Korean provocations.