WASHINGTON – U.S. national security adviser John Bolton left for Japan and South Korea on Saturday, with a U.S. plan to form a multinational coalition to safeguard commercial shipping in the Middle East possibly on the agenda.
Bolton is traveling to the two Asian countries “to continue conversations with critical allies and friends,” Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council said in a Twitter post.
The coalition plan, called the “Maritime Security Initiative,” follows attacks on two oil tankers — one of them operated by a Japanese shipping firm — near the Strait of Hormuz last month. The United States has blamed Iran for the incidents.
In Washington on Friday, the U.S. government briefed members of the diplomatic corps, including from Japan, about the initiative that it says is intended to ensure the safe passage of vessels in response to “increased threats in and around the Strait of Hormuz.”
According to participants in the meeting, the United States has called for the dispatch of ships and planes to increase maritime surveillance. It has also touched on personnel and financial contributions to a central command post.
Japan, which restricts its Self-Defense Forces’ overseas activities under the war-renouncing Constitution, faces legal hurdles in sending SDF destroyers and planes on such missions. It may instead be asked to make financial contributions or send liaison officers, political pundits say.
During his trip to Japan, Bolton is likely to meet his counterpart, Shotaro Yachi, who heads the secretariat of Japan’s National Security Council, and Foreign Minister Taro Kono, according to diplomatic sources.
Bolton may also have exchanges with Japanese officials on bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea, which are increasingly souring over export regulation and wartime compensation issues.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday he is ready to help reduce tensions between Japan and South Korea if the two allies seek help from Washington.