U.S. President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak by telephone with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday evening in talks that were likely be centered around North Korea’s nuclear program.
The White House said Saturday that the calls would take place starting at 8 p.m. Sunday but did not elaborate on the subject of the conversations.
North Korea’s missile and nuclear development programs have been one the Trump administration’s top foreign policy issues as it seeks to rein in the isolated regime of dictator Kim Jong Un.
Pyongyang has conducted a spat of missile and nuclear tests in defiance of U.N. sanctions over the last 18 months, including a barrage in March that the North said was practice for a strike on U.S. military bases in Japan.
Experts said the hypothetical target of that drill was U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
The White House has worked closely with the Abe administration on the North Korea issue, but had until recently pinned its hopes on China, Pyongyang’s sole ally, to use its leverage with its neighbor to pressure the North.
Trump and Xi held a summit in April, where he sought to work with China to ratchet up “maximum pressure” on the recalcitrant Kim regime.
The U.S. leader, however, declared on Twitter late last month that China’s efforts had “not worked out.”
On Friday, Trump wrapped up a two-day meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, with the two agreeing to take a “phased and comprehensive” approach to curbing the North’s missile and nuclear ambitions, while also leaving the door open for dialogue “under the right circumstances.”
In a joint statement issued after their meeting at the White House, the two leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to trilateral security cooperation with Japan, saying it “contributes to enhanced deterrence and defense against the North Korean threat.”
The two also said they would further discuss ideas to bolster cooperation at the upcoming U.S.-South Korea-Japan trilateral summit on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit later this week.
As the trio works to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons, Japan’s ties with South Korea have faced some challenges early on in Moon’s new presidency — especially over the contentious “comfort women” issue.
The South Korean leader has been seen by some as growing increasingly outspoken on the issue, a shift away from an earlier, more careful approach on North Korea and the women who were forced to work in Imperial Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.
During his presidential election campaign, Moon had pledged to renegotiate the 2015 bilateral deal to resolve the comfort women issue.
Experts have said Abe is aware that Moon may still be finding his balance in the early days of his presidency.
“Abe has been very smart to be patient and let Moon find his feet as he tries to reconcile the various constituencies that support him,” said Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a Honolulu-based think tank.
“Japan should take the moral high ground and stick to the comfort women agreement until the ROK breaks it,” Glosserman said. “Hopefully, they won’t but Japan must make sure it is blameless if that does occur.”
ROK is the acronym for the South’s formal name, the Republic of Korea.
On North Korea, Moon, a liberal, said last month in an interview that while leader Kim is “not a rational person,” the president still wants to restart dialogue with the reclusive regime.
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