WASHINGTON – The United States is arranging a meeting with the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea next month to coordinate steps to deal with North Korea and its increasingly provocative rhetoric, diplomatic sources said Sunday.
The move comes amid speculation that North Korea may test-fire intercontinental ballistic missiles or take other threatening actions at a time when denuclearization talks with the United States have stalled. Pyongyang set a year-end deadline for Washington to reconsider its approach to negotiations.
North Korea’s next step may lead the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to take a tougher approach, with some officials calling for a return to applying “maximum pressure” on the North.
The United States pursued the maximum pressure campaign before the start of summit diplomacy between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last year.
According to the sources, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, Toshimitsu Motegi and Kang Kyung-wha, may meet in San Francisco in mid-January. Such a three-way meeting has not been held since August.
The meeting is apparently aimed at making sure the United States and its two Asian allies can swiftly react to North Korea’s activities.
Bilateral meetings may also be held at the time, including between the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea, whose ties remain strained over wartime history and trade issues, the sources said.
North Korea said earlier this month through its state-run Korean Central News Agency that it would discuss and decide on “crucial issues” at a key ruling party meeting later in the month in line with “the changed situation at home and abroad.”
Close attention is being paid to whether North Korea will maintain its moratorium on the testing of nuclear devices and ICBMs, a decision reached in April 2018 ahead of the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit that was held in Singapore in June last year.
During the summit, Trump promised to provide security guarantees to North Korea in return for “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But the second summit in Hanoi in February this year collapsed after Trump rejected Kim’s demand for broad sanctions relief in return for partial denuclearization steps.
Since earlier this year, North Korea has conducted test-firings of what appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles. It also said earlier this month that it has conducted two important tests, which some experts say could be related to moves to launch ICBMs.