TOKYO – Japan urged the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden last month to resume denuclearization talks with North Korea, as the new U.S. government plans a full review of its approach to Pyongyang, sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday.
Takehiro Funakoshi, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, called for the resumption of the denuclearization talks in a Feb. 19 teleconference with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts, saying they had been “highly effective,” according to the sources.
Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019, after then U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un failed to reach an agreement on appropriate sanctions relief.
The call underscores Tokyo’s belief that direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea would yield results more quickly than a multilateral approach, and be more beneficial to its efforts to secure the return of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s.
Six-party talks including China and Russia were held intermittently from 2003 to 2008, but a landmark 2005 agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula was never implemented amid disagreement on how to verify North Korea was honoring its commitments.
Trump was highly engaged in negotiations with North Korea but failed to strike a deal after three summits with Kim, one in 2018 in Singapore and two in 2019 in Hanoi and the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.
The Biden administration, which took power on Jan. 20, has pledged to carry out a wholesale review of North Korea policy and indicated it will consult with Japan and South Korea, its key allies in East Asia.
The U.S. government sees Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs as an issue of “urgent priority,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said several days before the teleconference.
But there is concern in Tokyo that Biden will take a softer, phased approach that gives Pyongyang sanctions relief in exchange for gradually winding down its nuclear activities, unlike his predecessor Donald Trump’s commitment to full-fledged denuclearization measures.
In a Feb. 24 call with Sung Kim, the acting U.S. secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Funakoshi urged Washington to continue demanding the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program, the sources said.
Japan has made little progress in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table, despite Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s assertion that he is willing to meet with Kim without preconditions.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for Suga to fulfill his promise to resolve the abduction issue as the family members of the victims grow older.
Shigeru Yokota, who became a leading figure in repatriation efforts after his 13-year-old daughter Megumi was kidnapped in 1977, died last year at the age of 87.