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Abe prioritizes North Korea, Russia in UN diplomacy spree

HAVANA — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his five-day stint at this year’s United Nations General Assembly for a focused diplomatic offensive, pushing for stronger sanctions on North Korea and garnering support for ongoing talks with Russia.


Abe summed up his stay in New York at a press conference here Friday, touching on efforts to have the Security Council impose additional sanctions on North Korea in light of the isolated state’s nuclear weapons test in August — its second this year. China plays an “extremely important” role in moving a resolution forward, and will be key in implementing any new measures, he said, pledging to lean on Beijing to take action.


This was a prominent theme in many of the 15 meetings Abe had with more than 20 high officials during his trip, including a discussion with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Talks with the U.K., Colombia, Iran and a group of Asia-Pacific nations touched on North Korea as well. Abe also appealed directly to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling Pyongyang’s provocations a challenge to the U.N.’s mission.


A stable political situation at home made the diplomatic blitz possible. Abe’s first stint as prime minister ended after just a year, keeping him from attending the General Assembly then. His successor, Yasuo Fukuda, skipped out as well. Taro Aso, the next in line, attended only briefly. Now that Abe has managed to stay on top for some time, more foreign leaders want to meet with him, a foreign ministry official said. This year’s U.N. trip was Abe’s fourth.


Japan’s negotiations with Russia over disputed islands north of Hokkaido were another frequent topic of discussion. The U.S. is leery of closer ties between Japan and Russia, given ongoing tension between Washington and Moscow over the situation in Ukraine. But U.S. Vice President Joe Biden expressed confidence that Abe would handle territorial talks prudently after meeting with the prime minister.


Fumio Kishida, Japan’s foreign minister, met with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, agreeing to visit Russia before President Vladimir Putin heads to Japan in December.


A brief conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama was one of the few shortfalls of Abe’s diplomacy push. Japan aims to have the U.S., a permanent member of the Security Council, lead the charge on a resolution targeting North Korea. Tokyo also looks to push its ally to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in short order.


Obama “is at the end of his term, and there was nothing in particular to be discussed,” a Japanese foreign ministry official said. But the lost chance to underscore strong U.S.-Japan ties with a full summit was nevertheless disappointing, particularly after Abe failed to hold significant talks with the U.S. president on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit earlier this month.

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