SINGAPORE – Foreign Minister Taro Kono has conveyed to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tokyo’s desire to hold talks with North Korea on resolving the long-standing abduction issue, a government official said Saturday.
Kono’s remarks signal Japan’s growing frustration. Pyongyang, which earlier this year started to pursue diplomacy toward neighbors China and South Korea as well as the United States, has shown no interest in communicating with Tokyo.
“Japan has been determined to hold direct talks with North Korea and to take every step toward an early resolution of the abduction issue,” Kono was quoted by the official as telling Pompeo during a meeting on Saturday in Singapore, where both men are attending meetings hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called tackling the matter his “life’s work.” But Abe, who in recent years has repeatedly insisted that increasing the pressure on Pyongyang is vital to halting its nuclear and ballistic missile development programs, has in turn faced strong criticism from North Korea.
On Saturday, the ASEAN Regional Forum — an annual security gathering involving foreign ministers from nearly 30 nations including China, Japan, South Korea, the United States and the ASEAN members — took place in Singapore. It is one of the very few multilateral events attended by North Korea’s foreign minister almost every year.
During their meeting, Kono and Pompeo confirmed the importance of maintaining U.N. Security Council resolutions against North Korea until Pyongyang achieves complete denuclearization as pledged, the Japanese official said.
Amid skepticism over whether North Korea will take concrete measures toward denuclearization, Kono and Pompeo agreed to continue working together to pressure Pyongyang to give up all its nukes and missiles, the official said.
At a historic summit in June in the city-state, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised U.S. President Donald Trump that they achieve “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in return for security guarantees from the United States.
But negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang on the specifics of the denuclearization appear to be at a standstill, while North Korea has been improving ties with China, Russia and some ASEAN countries.
Kono and Pompeo also held trilateral talks involving Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Saturday.
The three ministers exchanged views on a plan to jointly set up a fund to invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region, the Japanese official said. The trilateral partnership is apparently aimed at countering China’s growing influence.
Washington and Tokyo are cautious about China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative of connecting countries along the ancient Silk Road more closely, saying Beijing is trying to expand its security and economic influence in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.