The Japanese and U.S. governments are planning to step up pressure on North Korea until it agrees to dialogue premised on its denuclearization. On the other hand, Tokyo and Washington are also expressing their readiness not to eliminate “preliminary contacts” between the U.S. and North Korea and between Japan and North Korea intended to fathom the North’s willingness to denuclearize.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver at the Ministry of Defense (MOF) on Feb. 26. Onodera said, “Japan wants to work closely with the U.S. without being deceived by North Korea’s charm diplomacy.” In response, Schriver said, “The U.S. will continue to put pressure on Pyongyang until the North demonstrates its seriousness toward denuclearization.” He also vowed to hold joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea that had been postponed after the PyeongChang Paralympics end.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga commented at a press conference on South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s reference to the North’s denuclearization during his meeting with Kim Yong Chol [of North Korea] by stressing, “Japan’s stance that [North Korea] needs to abandon its nuclear and missile plans and show concrete actions in a verifiable and irreversible manner is unwavering.”
Meanwhile, Suga pointed out, “It’s important to work on North Korea by directly communicating our thoughts to the country.” A senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) also said, “Having dialogue is not easy because it comes with the condition of the North’s denuclearization. But we welcome contacts between the U.S. and North Korea.”
The U.S. is also taking both hard and soft approaches. On Feb. 25, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement regarding talks between the U.S. and North Korea: “The U.S., South Korea, and the international community agree that dialogue should lead to the abandonment of nuclear weapons.” Citing a speech made by President Trump in November last year, she also pointed out that “North Korea has a bright future if it abandons nuclear weapons.” She gave two different messages: the U.S. will maintain a hard-line policy but will not reject suggestions for dialogue.
The U.S. delegation sent to the closing ceremony [of the PyeongChang Olympics] included National Security Council (NSC) director for Korea Allison Hooker, who has visited North Korea before. Though an official of the U.S. Embassy in South Korea says, “There was no contact between the delegation and North Korean officials,” the delegation is believed to have been put in place for possible contact with North Korea.
On the other hand, the U.S. on Feb. 23 announced the “largest-ever” additional sanctions to prevent the North from engaging in maritime smuggling. A U.S. political magazine, The Hill, describes this as a “carrot-and-stick approach.” Japan is also considering tightening sanctions for preventing the North’s smuggling in response to the additional U.S. sanctions.