Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday denounced North Korea’s missile provocation, saying that firing four missiles into the Sea of Japan on Monday violated U.N. resolutions in defiance of the international community.
A teleconference between the two leaders followed a report by the state-owned Korean Central News Agency earlier Tuesday that the missile launch drill was targeting U.S. military bases in Japan.
The North is said to be hoping to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Japan, but the two leaders emphasized the Japan-U.S. alliance was solid and the U.S. was committed to the security of Japan.
“The fact that it did not take long for the leaders of Japan and the U.S. to hold a conversation after yesterday’s missile test proves that the U.S. and Japan are always together,” Abe told reporters after he spoke with Trump for 25 minutes.
“President Trump said that the U.S. won’t tolerate the provocation by the North and that the U.S. is 100 percent with Japan. He also asked me to deliver his message to the Japanese people.”
Abe said that the U.S. made clear that every option is on the table, and that the North has to be deterred from further provocations. The leaders also demanded that North Korea abide by U.N. resolutions to cease and dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Following the Abe-Trump conference, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada also held a teleconference with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo. The three defense chiefs agreed that both bilateral and trilateral consultations were critical to respond to the threat from the North.
Mattis also told Inada that the U.S. will use every option, including extended deterrence, to defend Japan — a position he highlighted during his visit to Japan last month.
In a bid to up pressure on the North, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the three countries were working together to convene the United Nations Security Council to address the latest missile launch.
“It is important to urge member countries to abide by the resolution to decisively impose sanctions against the North,” Kishida said after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Japan and the U.S. also agreed to hold a “two-plus-two” meeting of their foreign and defense ministers as soon as possible. Mattis has already visited Japan, coming last month, while U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to visit later this week, with the U.S. position on North Korea likely to be discussed.
Abe’s conversation with Trump, whose administration is mulling its strategy against the North, came less than three weeks after a summit between the pair in Washington.
While Abe said it was critical to share the two nations’ strategic objectives on the matter, it was still unclear what exactly Trump’s North Korea strategy would be as he was yet to announce the political appointees who would be in charge of Northeast Asia policy.
Trump appears to be steadfastly against the North and critical of the so-called strategic patience espoused by former U.S. President Barack Obama, where the U.S. would not engage in any dialogue until the North decides to denuclearize.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Trump administration was reportedly considering options including direct missile strikes on North Korean launch sites and reintroducing nuclear weapons in South Korea.
“This underscores the importance of getting the national security apparatus in working order quickly,” said Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a Honolulu-based think tank. “The president needs a national security adviser to run the process and get actionable advice to the president. If that doesn’t happen, other countries will recognize the gap and try to exploit it.”
Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, said the North was trying to destabilize the Japan-U.S. alliance by showing it was capable of striking U.S. military bases here.
“This is nuclear blackmail by the North,” he said. “They are sending the message that they will target Japan if it provides support to the U.S., aiming to make Japan uneasy. In this way, Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge between Japan and the U.S.”
Despite Pyongyang ratcheting up its rhetoric toward Tokyo and Washington, J. Berkshire Miller, a Tokyo-based international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, said such a strategy might not be working.
“This adds another element to Japan’s threat perceptions — with three missile parts landing in Tokyo’s EEZ (exclusive economic zone) — on the North and only hurts Pyongyang’s aim of weakening U.S. alliances in the region,” he said. “If anything, provocations like this only strengthen the purpose and resolve of enhanced trilateral cooperation between Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.”