National / Politics

Japan and U.S. top envoys vow to cooperate on North Korea and Middle East

Kyodo

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed Monday to cooperate on North Korean nuclear issues and in dealing with the situation in the Middle East following an attack on Saudi Arabia’s major oil facilities.

Motegi, who spoke with Pompeo on the phone for the first time since taking on the foreign minister portfolio last Wednesday, told reporters he also agreed to meet the secretary of state on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month.

Pompeo offered to hold the talks in order to congratulate Motegi, previously the economic revitalization minister, for assuming his new post in the wake of the Cabinet reshuffle, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Motegi told his U.S. counterpart that he is “100 percent” supportive of the country’s efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

During the talks, Pompeo “reiterated the shared goal of final and fully verified denuclearization of North Korea” and affirmed U.S. commitment to keep working with Japan on a range of regional and global issues, the State Department said.

On the Middle East, the two also spoke about “the need for all nations to ensure safe transit for all through the Strait of Hormuz,” it added.

The Japanese minister also said that he and Pompeo affirmed that instability in the Middle East would have a negative impact on the global economy following drone strikes Saturday on two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that cut the country’s daily production of crude oil by nearly half.

Iran-allied Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen claimed responsibility for the strikes, but Pompeo has cast the blame on Iran, and tension has grown as U.S. President Donald Trump hinted at possible military action.

“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” he tweeted Sunday, without citing who he thinks is responsible.

Japan relies on Saudi Arabia for nearly 40 percent of its crude oil imports, and the stability of the region is of vital importance.

During the discussion between Motegi and Pompeo, they also shared the view that it would be a major problem if the trilateral relationship between Japan, the U.S. and South Korea broke down.

Pompeo emphasized the need for “constructive dialogue” between Tokyo and Seoul, according to the State Department.

Relations between Japan and South Korea have deteriorated to their worst condition in years since a series of South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation for wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Japan has maintained that both nations agreed to settle the issue of compensation finally and completely in 1965.

The neighbors are also at loggerheads over Tokyo’s tightening of export controls, which Seoul sees as retaliation for the dispute over wartime compensation.

The bilateral dispute has also moved into the security realm, with South Korea deciding in August to terminate an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan despite the need for the U.S. allies to coordinate closely in addressing North Korea’s missile threat.

Pompeo had expressed concern over Seoul’s decision to end the General Security of Military Information Agreement, saying that the United States was “disappointed.”