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Japan will not change policy due to planned inter-Korean talks

TOKYO — Japan maintained Friday it will not change its policy of working with the United States and South Korea to raise pressure on North Korea even after Pyongyang agreed with Seoul to hold high-level talks next week.

 

Earlier in the day, North Korea told South Korea it has accepted the South’s offer to hold a meeting Tuesday at the truce village of Panmunjeom in the heavily fortified demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.

 

“We won’t change our policy of maximizing pressure on North Korea through every means in cooperation with the United States, South Korea and relevant countries including China and Russia,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

 

The top Japanese government spokesman also said Tokyo has been “closely cooperating” with Washington and Seoul on the planned inter-Korean talks and wider North Korea policy by sharing information and adjusting policies.

 

The dialogue would be the first inter-Korean high-level talks since South Korean President Moon Jae In took office in May. The two Koreas last held such dialogue in December 2015.

 

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said he is “keeping an eye on (the inter-Korean dialogue) as it would not be talks for the sake of talking but could result in changing North Korea’s policies.”

 

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said it will send Kenji Kanasugi, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, on Monday to Seoul, where he is expected to exchange views with officials of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, including Lee Do Hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs.

 

Suga also said Japan’s North Korea policy will be unaffected by an agreement between Washington and Seoul to delay annual joint military exercises until after the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month.

 

“We understand the decision on the schedule of the joint military drills will not undermine the move to strengthen pressure on North Korea,” he said.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump and Moon agreed on the delay during phone talks Thursday to ensure the security of the games, which are scheduled to be held Feb. 9 to 25 in Pyeongchang.

 

The United States and South Korea, meanwhile, reaffirmed their stance toward North Korea, vowing to impose “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang in order to force it to engage in talks for denuclearization, the White House said in a statement.

 

A Japanese government source pointed out that North Korea has not promised to give up its nuclear testing and missile launches, and the U.S.-South Korea move would allow the reclusive country to “buy time.”

 

The source also said Japan will continue to brace for additional provocations by the North, while urging Pyongyang to adhere to U.N. Security Council sanction resolutions.

 

North Korea has been opposed to the joint military drills, describing them as preparations for invasion. In his New Year address on Monday, leader Kim Jong Un demanded the exercises be stopped, while expressing he is prepared to send a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics.

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