• Kyodo, Reuters, Staff Report


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in the early hours of Thursday that he and U.S. President Donald Trump have “completely agreed” to strengthen pressure on North Korea after the North fired a ballistic missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday.

Japan also pushed the United States on Wednesday to propose new United Nations Security Council sanctions that diplomats said might target the reclusive state’s laborers working abroad, oil supply and textile exports

“I cannot tell you about our forthcoming response to North Korea, but we have just completely agreed on it,” Abe told reporters at his office after speaking with Trump by telephone, the second such call since the missile launch on Tuesday morning.

A senior Japanese official subsequently said the leaders had agreed on the need to step up pressure on North Korea and for the country to “change its policies.”

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said at an impromptu news conference that Abe and Trump agreed to “continue to work in close coordination, including at the United Nations,” over the matter.

North Korea’s latest provocation on Tuesday prompted the U.N. Security Council to unanimously adopt a statement condemning the launch.

Abe spoke with Trump for about 30 minutes in the early hours of Thursday morning, having already affirmed with the leaders of Australia, Britain and South Korea earlier in the day that they will coordinate closely in putting increased pressure on North Korea.

But a stricter U.N. Security Council resolution with further restrictions on North Korea would require wrangling with China and Russia, permanent members of the decision-making body that both have economic dealings with Pyongyang.

The White House also confirmed that the two leaders spoke by phone and agreed on “continuing, close cooperation” to address the threat posed by North Korea.

“The two leaders confirmed their continuing, close cooperation on efforts to address North Korea’s launch of an intermediate range ballistic missile that overflew Japanese territory earlier this week,” the White House said in a brief statement.

Trump posted on Twitter shortly before his phone call with Abe that “talking is not the answer” in dealing with the nuclear-armed regime in Pyongyang.

“The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” he tweeted.

In a commentary run by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency late Wednesday, Pyongyang lambasted the Japan-U.S. security alliance, labeling Tokyo “crafty” and claiming that Japan views tension on the Korean Peninsula as a “good opportunity” to loosen constitutional restraints on its military.

“Taking the increased tension on the Korean peninsula as a ‘good opportunity’ for realizing the constitutional revision and the ambition for emerging a military giant, Japan has now come out with its sleeves rolled up in supporting its master’s anti-DPRK war moves while vociferating about the ‘threat from the north,’ ” the commentary said.

It said the allies’ “military nexus” had become a “serious threat” to the Korean Peninsula and that “crafty Japan is seeking to attain its strategic goal with the help of the U.S.,” but that Tokyo was “unaware” it was “accelerating self-destruction.”

“The U.S. and Japan had better be thoughtful over the DPRK’s warning,” the commentary said.

Earlier Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said an oil embargo is “one of the options” Japan might seek to tighten the international community’s vise on North Korea.

The United States traditionally drafts resolutions to impose sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. It first negotiates with China, Pyongyang’s most important ally, before involving the remaining 13 council members.

The Security Council condemned North Korea’s “outrageous” firing of a medium-range ballistic missile on Tuesday, but did not threaten new sanctions. Pyongyang said the launch was to counter U.S. and South Korean military drills.

Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho said Tokyo would now like a “strong resolution” on North Korea.

“We will certainly discuss it with the United States,” Bessho told reporters on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations said: “While the U.S. and Japan remain in close consultation on North Korea, we are not working on a new resolution at the moment.”

A push for new sanctions is likely to counter resistance from veto-wielding powers China and Russia, diplomats said, particularly given new measures were only recently imposed after Pyongyang staged two long-range missile launches in July.

On Aug. 5 the council unanimously adopted sanctions that could slash by a third the isolated state’s $3 billion annual export revenue by banning exports of coal, iron, lead, and seafood and prohibiting countries from sending any more North Korean laborers to work abroad.

Typically China and Russia only view a test of a long-range missile or a nuclear weapon as a trigger for further possible U.N. sanctions. North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

However, some council diplomats argue that new measures are needed because this was the first time North Korea had fired a weapons missile over Japan, differing from a 2009 launch over Japan that Pyongyang had forewarned about and said was a rocket carrying a communications satellite into orbit.

“The time is right to consider further constraints on the DPRK regime, given that the constraints that we have put in place so far have clearly not yet got them to change course.” British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said on Wednesday, using the acronym for North Korea’s formal name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“One other thing we could look at is building on the cap on foreign laborers in (the Aug. 5) resolution … to see whether we could do more to prevent the flow of money coming into DPRK from North Korean nationals who are working abroad,” he said.

Some diplomats estimate that between 60,000 and 100,000 North Koreans work abroad. A U.N. human rights investigator said in 2015 that North Korea had forced more than 50,000 people to work abroad, mainly in Russia and China, earning between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion a year.

Diplomats have said Pyongyang’s textile exports, supplies of oil to the government and military and the country’s national airline could also be targeted by any new U.N. sanctions.

Textiles were North Korea’s second-biggest export after coal and other minerals in 2016, totaling $752 million, according to data from the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. Nearly 80 percent of the textile exports went to China, according to Chinese customs data.

Any new sanctions would build on eight resolutions ratcheting up action against Pyongyang over five nuclear tests, four long-range ballistic missile tests and dozens of medium-range rocket launches. The past three substantial resolutions have taken between one and three months to negotiate.

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