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Abe and Moon show unity as Winter Games open

Kyodo, Reuters

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in affirmed their stance of raising pressure on North Korea in talks Friday ahead of the opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

While preparations for the Pyeongchang Games have involved dialogue and displays of unity between the two Koreas, Abe said he and Moon repeated that there is a need to continue to press the North over its nuclear weapons and missile development programs, as agreed between Japan and the United States.

“North Korea must recognize that the strong ties between Japan, the United States and South Korea will never waver,” he told reporters after meeting with Moon.

“We need all U.N. member states to strictly enforce Security Council resolutions and raise pressure to the maximum degree until North Korea (agrees to) change its policies and comes to us seeking dialogue,” he said.

The meeting came amid signs of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula ahead of the Winter Olympics. Moon is pursuing denuclearization of the peninsula through inter-Korea dialogue and using the international sports event to promote this policy.

After North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un extended an olive branch in his New Year’s address, the North and South resumed official talks and agreed to form a joint women’s ice hockey team and march together under a unified flag at the opening ceremony.

Earlier Friday, a high-level delegation from Pyongyang including Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong and ceremonial leader Kim Yong Nam arrived in South Korea.

At a reception dinner prior to the opening ceremony in the evening, local TV footage showed Kim Yong Nam shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae In and with Abe. In greeting the ceremonial leader, Abe’s first interaction with a member of the Kim Jong Un regime, the prime minister urged him and North Korea to work on solving the abduction, nuclear weapon and missile issues. The two Kims are scheduled to hold talks with Moon on Saturday.

Tokyo and Washington believe that through dialogue with Seoul, Pyongyang is aiming to buy time to develop its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles further to weaken the three-way alliance.

The North has refrained from further provocations since testing an intercontinental ballistic missile in November. But speculation is growing it might fire off another if South Korea and the United States resume joint military drills after the Paralympics in March.

On the eve of the opening ceremony, the North carried out a large military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army and displayed what appeared to be ICBMs.

Abe and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who will also attend the opening event, agreed Wednesday in Tokyo to reaffirm with Moon their stance of maximizing pressure on North Korea to abandon the programs.

Amid the regional tension, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, reaffirmed in Washington their countries’ commitment to pressuring Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons on Thursday, the U.S. State Department said.

Yang was on a two-day visit to Washington that began Thursday. His talks were also expected to cover the sensitive U.S.-China economic relationship after recent tit-for-tat actions raised fears of a trade war erupting between the world’s two largest economies.

“Both sides reaffirmed President Trump’s and President Xi’s commitment to keep up pressure on North Korea’s illegal weapons and nuclear programs,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a news briefing.

Nauert said Tillerson and Yang “agreed on the importance of continuing a constructive and productive relationship aimed at cooperation on mutual challenges and addressing our differences forthrightly.”

“They discussed the need to achieve a fair and reciprocal bilateral economic relationship and shared approaches to stemming the flow of deadly narcotics,” Nauert said, adding that Tillerson and Yang looked forward to continuing discussions at an annual diplomatic and security dialogue in the first half of the year.

Japan and South Korea have been at odds since the Moon administration announced in January internal findings on how the comfort women pact was reached before its signing under the administration of his impeached predecessor, Park Geun-hye.

While describing the deal as “seriously flawed,” Moon has said Seoul will not seek to renegotiate it, though he did express hope for a fresh Japanese apology to the victims, who were forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II. Abe is expected to urge Moon to steadily implement the deal, arguing that Japan has been carrying out its promises, Japanese government officials said. Under the deal, Japan deposited ¥1 billion ($9.1 million) into a South Korean foundation set up to support the surviving victims, and Abe expressed his “most sincere apologies and remorse” to them. South Korea, meanwhile, said it “will strive to solve” the issue of a statue symbolizing comfort women in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

Abe, who cited the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics as one of the reasons for his Pyeongchang visit, will encourage Japanese athletes on Saturday before returning home. Moon’s mention of the apology initially caused Abe to express doubt about accepting Seoul’s invitation to attend the opening ceremony