WASHINGTON – A senior U.S. official on Friday expressed willingness to hold a trilateral foreign ministerial meeting with Japan and South Korea on the sidelines of Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings next week in Bangkok.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, among other top diplomats from the region, are set to gather in the Thai capital at a time when Tokyo-Seoul ties have fallen to their lowest point in years due to disputes over wartime history and trade policy.
“I think any time we have the U.S., the ROK and Japan in the same place, there’s going to be a desire to get together,” the senior State Department official told reporters, signaling possible U.S. intervention in helping improve relations between the two American allies.
ROK is the acronym of South Korea’s formal name, the Republic of Korea.
The official said U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is “concerned” about heightened tensions between Japan and South Korea, apparently because soured ties could affect trilateral coordination with the United States in denuclearizing North Korea.
The administration is “looking for ways to incentivize both to address those in a productive way that benefits both sides,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The official expressed hope that Japan and South Korea will find “areas of overlapping interest.”
Trump has said he would be willing to mediate if asked.
“It’s like a full-time job getting involved between Japan and South Korea,” he told reporters on July 19. “If they need me, I’m there.”
Tokyo-Seoul ties became so acrimonious that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not have a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in when he hosted him and other world leaders for a Group of 20 summit in Osaka late last month.
In Bangkok, Pompeo is scheduled to attend a foreign ministerial meeting of the United States and the 10-nation ASEAN next Thursday and the ASEAN Regional Forum, a 27-member regional security forum, on Aug. 2 at which North Korea and the South China Sea are likely to be a major focus.