Japan odd man out after Trump eases 'maximum presssure' policy

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Japan odd man out after Trump eases 'maximum presssure' policy

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    Japan odd man out after Trump eases 'maximum presssure' policy


    June 3, 2018 at 16:50 JST

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    Photo/IllutrationDefense Minister Itsunori Onodera delivers an address at the Asia Security Summit in Singapore on June 2. (Rihito Karube)

    SINGAPORE--Japan is caught in a dilemma as U.S. President Donald Trump is no longer in lockstep with maintaining “maximum pressure” on North Korea over its nuclear and missile program as well as the abduction of Japanese nationals.

    Visiting Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera was forced to quickly adapt to the latest development in Washington when he spoke on the role of defense authorities in an address on North Ko rea at the Asia Security Summit here on June 2.

    Toning down “maintaining maximum pressure,” a phrase that Japan and the United States have used, Onodera referred to the importance of “maintaining maximum pressure that is currently being applied” on North Korea.

    The recalibration followed Trump’s comment on June 1 after his meeting with North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol about sanctions on Pyongyang in Washington, ahead of a historic June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

    “I look forward to the day I can take the sanctions off North Korea,” Trump said. “I don’t even want to use the term 'maximum pressure' anymore.”

    Onodera’s remark reflected Japan taking note of Trump’s changing position, although it is mired in uncertainty.

    A senior official at the Defense Ministry noted that Japan cannot keep changing its policy toward North Korea.

    But there are concerns that Japan single-mindedly p ursuing a policy of maintaining maximum pressure could alienate itself in the global community.

    Trump also said Japan, China and South Korea will have roles to play in providing economic assistance to North Korea after it agrees to denuclearization.

    Japan has maintained that Tokyo will offer economic assistance to Pyongyang only after a comprehensive solution to the nuclear and missile issue, as well as the issue of abducting Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, is achieved.

    But other countries could move to give economic assistance to North Korea in response to the step-by-step progress of its denuclearization after the summit between the United States and North Korea.

    A Japanese government official well-versed in diplomatic issues predicted a tough time ahead for Japan.

    “Japan will be put in a bind if North Korea’s denuclearization remained incomplete and Japan were left on its own to deal with North Korea over the abduction issue,” th e official said.

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