National / Politics

Japan throws cold water on U.S.-led dialogue on North Korea


In a rare split from its defense ally, Japan put a damper on plans for a multilateral meeting in December proposed by the United States and Canada to discuss North Korea.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono indicated after a Cabinet meeting that the talks will not take place this year.

A Japanese government source said Canada invited the members of the United Nations Command and others to meet in Vancouver later this month to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development, but Japan expressed concerns that the pursuit of dialogue may take the emphasis away from pressure in dealing with Pyongyang.

Japan received a reply from Canada that it would rearrange the talks, the source said.

The United Nations Command was set up during the Korean War as a U.S.-led coalition of the countries that sent troops to support South Korea.

While the Japanese government’s move is broadly in line with its “pressure, not dialogue” stance on North Korea, it also comes amid speculation that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who would co-chair the talks, may not have long left in his post.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Tillerson announced the talks in Thursday’s statements following North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test.

Kono said he explained to the Canadian side that the meeting as originally scheduled would clash with the U.N. Security Council’s schedule. He is expected to chair a ministerial-level Security Council meeting on North Korea in New York on Dec. 15.

Kono also said he told Canadian officials that “they should narrow down the participating countries a little more,” citing the distance between some of the “sending states” and the current situation on the Korean Peninsula.

A senior Foreign Ministry official expressed displeasure with the idea of the meeting itself, saying it would “be out of step with Japan’s direction.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration have long pushed for the international community to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea and put aside any possibility of direct dialogue until the North makes clear it will give up its nuclear program.

North Korea’s launch of its new intercontinental ballistic missile prompted Japanese government sources to raise concerns last week that Washington could agree to talks with Pyongyang that might leave Japan under threat.

Some in Tokyo also have concerns about a lack of communication within the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump amid the rumors of Tillerson’s impending departure.

U.S. media reported last week that Trump is considering ditching Tillerson, potentially replacing him with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo.

But Trump denied the claim, tweeting on Dec. 1 that it was “fake news” and that he and Tillerson “work well together.”