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Japan to watch U.S. moves in working for Japan-North Korea summit

The Japan-ROK summit meeting on Sept. 25 was scheduled to last for 30 minutes but was extended by 20 minutes because President Moon Jae-in gave a detailed briefing on the outcome of the latest North-South summit.


According to a source present at the meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listened intently to Moon’s briefing and expressed his gratitude for the president’s “taking up Japan-North Korea relations, including the abduction issue.”


In his speech at the UN General Assembly’s General Debate after this meeting, Abe indicated his eagerness to hold a Japan-DPRK summit. He stated: “We will not spare any effort to remove the postwar structure in Northeast Asia.” While he devoted 80% of his UN speech last year to calling for stronger pressure on North Korea, his emphasis was on dialogue this time.


Nevertheless, a Japan-DPRK summit cannot be realized overnight. At his news conference on Sept. 26, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: “[Abe] was simply told that his message was conveyed to Chairman Kim.” He also stressed Japan’s longstanding position that a summit “must contribute to a solution to the abduction issue.” Abe had met with the association of the abduction victims’ families shortly before his trip to the U.S. and conveyed his intent to resolve the issue.


Japan-North Korea relations had not been included in the ROK’s briefing right after the North-South summit. The Japanese Foreign Ministry says that the ROK’s report on this summit “did not mention any Japan-DPRK dialogue.” However, Moon’s briefing revealed new information. A senior Foreign Ministry official noted on Sept. 26: “The Blue House (ROK presidential office) has the initiative in dealing with North Korea, so the ROK foreign ministry might not have all the information.”


However, the Japanese government will have to rely on moves on the U.S.’s part in its effort to realize a Japan-DPRK summit. A Kantei source observes cynically: “At present, North Korea is only dealing with the U.S. A message conveyed by the ROK, which has been overzealous about North-South talks, is unlikely to move North Korea.”


Progress in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as agreed at the U.S.-DPRK summit, is indispensable before a Japan-DPRK summit can take place. As Abe told Moon: “Close Japan-ROK and Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation needs to continue for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” He has no intention to move the North Korea issues forward by Japan and the ROK alone without the U.S.’s involvement.


A government source reveals: “We had not requested the ROK to take up (a Japan-DPRK summit).” It is widely believed in the government that the ROK is the one enthusiastic about a Japan-DPRK summit. Therefore, the above source who participated in the Japan-ROK summit explained that Abe expressed gratitude at the meeting simply because he was “behaving maturely.”

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