Japan plans to maintain maximum pressure on North Korea in close coordination with the United States to make Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons and missile programs, amid reviving prospects for a U.S.-North Korea summit in June, government officials said Sunday.
The government scrambled to gather information to help it understand what was behind U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent back and forth on the potential summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
Over the weekend, Trump and Kim respectively expressed their readiness to meet on June 12 as originally planned, after days of conflicting signals from both sides.
“It’s hard to predict (what will happen). We need to prepare for all possibilities,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said, referring to Trump’s approach to North Korea.
Another government source said, “We should not be swayed by what is happening right now. What’s needed is to coordinate firmly with the U.S. administration.”
Trump on Thursday abruptly canceled the planned summit with Kim, but he later said the United States and North Korea were having “very productive talks.” On Saturday, Trump told reporters at the White House that arrangements appeared to be “going along very well.”
North Korea said last week it dismantled its only known nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, but Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed doubt about whether the site has been closed.
“There is no need to hurry. The biggest challenge is for the international community to jointly prevent North Korea from evading sanctions,” Kono told reporters during a visit to Yamagata Prefecture in northeastern Japan.
For Japan, resolving the long-standing issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s is also a priority.
“This is going to be an opportunity that Japan, which has the abduction issue, should never lose,” said Koichi Hagiuda, executive acting secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, in a speech in Miyazaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been seeking to build a personal rapport with Trump, is expected to show unity with the U.S. president.
Abe is considering visiting the United States for a summit with Trump before heading to Canada where leaders from the Group of Seven industrialized nations will gather on June 8 and 9, according to government sources.
The plan apparently reflects Japan’s desire to share information with its key ally the United States, as some within the government worry that Trump’s quick maneuvering would project Japan as being left out.