TOKYO — Japan put a damper Tuesday on plans for a multilateral meeting this month on North Korea proposed by the United States and Canada, in a rare split from its defense ally.
Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Taro Kono indicated that the talks, to be hosted by Canada, will not take place this year.
A Japanese government source said Canada invited the members of the United Nations Command and others to meet in Vancouver later this month to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development, but Japan expressed reluctance due to the potential for dialogue to be valued over pressure in dealing with Pyongyang.
Japan received a reply from Canada that it would rearrange the talks, the source said.
The United Nations Command was set up in the Korean War as a U.S.-led coalition of the countries that sent troops to support South Korea.
While the Japanese government’s move is broadly in line with its “pressure, not dialogue” stance on North Korea, it also comes amid speculation that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who would co-chair the talks, may not have long left in his post.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Tillerson announced the talks in Nov. 28 press statements following North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test.
Kono said he had explained to the Canadian side that the meeting as originally scheduled would clash with the U.N. Security Council’s schedule. He is expected to chair a ministerial-level Security Council meeting on North Korea in New York on Dec. 15.
Kono also said he told Canadian officials that “they should narrow down the participating countries a little more,” citing the distance between some of the “sending states” and the current situation on the Korean Peninsula.
A senior Foreign Ministry official expressed displeasure with the idea of the meeting itself, saying it would “be out of step with Japan’s direction.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration have long pushed for the international community to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea and put aside any possibility of direct dialogue until the North makes clear it will give up its nuclear program.
North Korea’s launch of its new intercontinental ballistic missile prompted Japanese government sources to raise concerns last week that Washington could agree to talks with Pyongyang that might leave Japan under threat.
Some in Tokyo also have concerns about a lack of communication within the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump amid the rumors of Tillerson’s impending departure.
U.S. media reported last week that Trump is considering ditching Tillerson, potentially replacing him with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo.
But Trump denied the claim, tweeting on Dec. 1 that it was “fake news” and that he and Tillerson “work well together.”