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Foreign Minister Kono planning Europe trip in early July

TOKYO — Foreign Minister Taro Kono is planning a tour of Europe in early July that would make him Japan’s first top diplomat to visit Georgia and Armenia, government sources said Monday.


The trip would also take him to Azerbaijan, Poland and Austria, the sources said. In Vienna, Kono is expected to discuss measures to ensure North Korea’s denuclearization with International Atomic Energy Agency officials.


His itinerary would hinge on how long the ongoing ordinary session of Japan’s parliament will be extended past its scheduled close on Wednesday.


Kono’s trip to Georgia and Armenia — which are both located in the Caucasus region between eastern Europe and western Asia and share a border with Turkey — is apparently an attempt to strike up amiable relations with countries that Japan has historically not had much dealings with to counter rival China’s growing global influence.


Following a historic summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reaffirmed a pledge to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”


Washington and its allies have pushed for the process to be complete, verifiable and irreversible, though it remains unclear whether North Korea would be willing to accept IAEA inspectors into its nuclear facilities.


If his trip to the IAEA is realized, Kono and the nuclear watchdog’s officials are expected to discuss what inspections, which Japan has offered to partially fund, would look like.


The last time a Japanese foreign minister visited Poland and Azerbaijan was in 2007 and 1999, respectively. There, Kono is expected to discuss cooperation in energy production.

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