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Kono hurries to meet Pompeo as Iran casts shadow on Asia diplomacy



TOKYO — The top Japanese and U.S. diplomats agreed in Jordan on Monday to demand concrete steps toward denuclearization by North Korea in light of leader Kim Jong Un’s pledge to realize a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.


The meeting in the Jordanian capital of Amman between Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was agreed to just the day before, as Japanese officials scrambled to secure an opportunity for the two men to meet before Kim’s summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, expected by early June.


It was their first meeting since Pompeo, who until recently led the Central Intelligence Agency, was confirmed to his new post Thursday.


Japanese diplomats are increasingly worried that the Trump administration may seek quick deals on the North Korean issue in order to focus their diplomatic resources on Iran and the Middle East. Ahead of a May 12 deadline for the U.S. to decide whether to remain in the existing Iran nuclear deal, Pompeo met with leaders of Saudi Arabia and Israel to share concerns about Iran’s activities.


In a news conference broadcast to the world on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered fresh intelligence about what he alleged were Iran’s “secret nuclear files” showing that the country covertly pursued nuclear weapons.


Japan expects North Korea to demand the reduction or removal of American forces from South Korea during the Trump-Kim meeting, and fears easy compromises.


“The removal of U.S. forces in South Korea would create a national security vacuum in East Asia,” a Japanese government official said.


Kono and Pompeo agreed that North Korea needs to take specific actions toward complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. They agreed to maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea until the reclusive state actually scraps its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.


The two diplomats said they would jointly address Pyongyang’s alleged dodging of international sanctions. The North is accused of docking its ships alongside those of willing suppliers to exchange cargo. Kono and Pompeo also agreed to cooperate toward resolving the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea during the 1970s and 1980s.


Pompeo, as CIA director, met secretly with Kim in Pyongyang early in April. Kono appears to have received details of their talks.

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