• Kyodo, Reuters


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed Thursday to exert stronger pressure on North Korea, including tougher U.N. sanctions, in the wake of a recent nuclear test by Pyongyang.

The leaders, meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, also agreed on coordinating bilaterally and with the United States, to call on China and Russia to rein in Pyongyang, according to a Japanese official who was at the talks.

“There is a need to take steps toward applying pressure of a different dimension. Security and defense cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea are important to enhance deterrence and response capabilities,” Abe told Moon, according to the official.

“The two leaders shared the same view that now is the time to further strengthen sanctions and pressure on North Korea to the maximum level,” a South Korean presidential spokesman said during a briefing, according to the presidential office.

Moon stressed that while reinforcing sanctions and pressure to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs, efforts need to be made to seek a long-term solution through peaceful means, the office said.

The meeting on the sidelines of an economic forum comes as the U.N. Security Council, including veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia, is debating a fresh resolution to impose tougher sanctions — such as an oil embargo — on the North to curb its nuclear and missile programs.

According to a draft of the fresh resolution, the United States wants the Security Council to impose an oil embargo on North Korea, ban the country’s exports of textiles and the hiring of North Korean laborers abroad, and subject leader Kim Jong Un to an asset freeze and travel ban.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has said she wants the 15-member council to vote on Monday on the draft resolution to impose new sanctions over North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test. However, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has said a Monday vote may be “a little premature.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on Wednesday that resolving the crisis was impossible with sanctions and pressure alone.

A U.N. resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass.

The North’s launch of a missile designed to carry a nuclear payload over Hokkaido in late August and its Sunday test of what it said was a hydrogen bomb have significantly raised tensions in the region.

Concerns are also mounting that North Korea is ready to carry out another nuclear test and may test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile around key anniversaries including on Saturday, when the reclusive state marks its founding.

“Repeated provocative actions by North Korea pose an unprecedented, grave and major threat,” Abe said at the outset of talks, which were open to the media. “I hope to continue close coordination between Japan and South Korea and among Japan, South Korea and the United States.”

“Through the promotion of exchanges in various areas, I hope we will build a new, future-oriented Japan-South Korea relationship,” Abe added.

Moon said close coordination between the two countries has become “even more critical” in light of the North Korean nuclear issue. Besides having in-depth discussions about the issue, “I want to start concrete talks on ways to cooperate substantively” in such areas as the economy, he said.

As Tokyo and Seoul have sought to coordinate their response to Pyongyang, Abe and Moon have remained far apart on historical issues, in particular conflicting views on “comfort women,” a euphemism for women and girls who were forced to provide sex at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

Abe urged Moon to uphold a 2015 deal under which the nations agreed to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the decades-old issue, according to the Japanese official. As part of the deal, Japan disbursed ¥1 billion last year to a South Korean fund to support former comfort women and their families.

The official said Moon, who took office in May, responded to Abe’s request by repeating South Korea’s stance on the matter. The Moon administration argues that “the majority of the country’s public do not approve of the comfort women agreement.”

Additionally, South Koreans seeking compensation for forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula remains another thorny issue.

Abe conveyed to Moon Tokyo’s stance that all postwar compensation claims were resolved and settled under a 1965 bilateral accord that led to the normalization of diplomatic ties, the official said. Moon has said individuals should still have the right to mount civil suits against Japanese firms for compensation.

Abe also expressed willingness to host a summit between Japanese, Chinese and South Korean leaders later this year with Moon in attendance, the official said.

The last such trilateral summit took place in November 2015 in Seoul, after a three-and-a-half-year hiatus. Once held annually, the summit has been increasingly difficult to schedule in recent years party due to lingering tensions over historical issues.

At their previous talks in July on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, Abe and Moon agreed to resume reciprocal visits by the two countries’ leaders.

At Thursday’s meeting, Moon invited Abe to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, according to the presidential office.

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