TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, unable to meet North Korea's leader himself, is heading to Washington to try to make sure President Donald Trump doesn't overlook Japan's security and other concerns at the unprecedented U.S.-North Korea summit next week.
Abe will have less than two hours to make his points to Trump at the White House today before both go to Canada for a Group of Seven summit on Friday and Saturday. The American president then flies to Singapore for his Tuesday meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Japan, which relied on the U.S. for its post-World War II diplomacy and security, has been absent in the recent burst of engagement with North Korea. Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have both met Kim twice, as Abe waits his turn to raise Japan's concerns directly.
"I want to make sure to be on the same page with President Trump ahead of the first ever U.S.-North Korea summit so we can push forward nuclear and missile issues, and most importantly the abduction problem, and make for a successful summit," Abe told reporters Wednesday before leaving for the airport.
Abe doesn't want Trump to strike a compromise that would leave Japan exposed to shorter-range missiles that do not threaten the U.S. mainland, or a deal that relieves pressure on North Korea before it takes concrete steps toward complete denuclearization. He is expected to ask Trump once again to raise with Kim the fate of Japanese abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s.
Japan hopes to hold talks with North Korea after a successful Trump-Kim summit. Abe has said he is open to meeting with Kim, but only if it would lead to resolving the abduction issue. He said Japan would then normalize ties and provide economic aid as rewards for a North Korean commitment to both denuclearization and resolution of the abduction issue.
After a 2002 summit between then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, North Korea acknowledged abducting 13 Japanese and allowed five of them to visit Japan, though they then stayed, angering North Korea. Japan says at least 17 Japanese were abducted and possibly more.
Japanese officials are scrambling to get information on the Trump-Kim summit. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan will dispatch diplomats to Singapore to try to get the latest updates.
After his previous meeting with Trump in April, Abe said the two leaders were in complete agreement on North Korea policy, namely to keep sanctions in place until Pyongyang takes concrete action toward verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.
Concerns have since grown in Japan that Trump may be prioritizing holding a summit rather than the goal of full denuclearization. Abe, who has played tough on the North, also worries that a growing reconciliatory mood between the two Koreas may prompt leniency toward Pyongyang.
Trump's recent statement that he doesn't want to keep using the phrase "maximum pressure" against North Korea reinforced those fears.
North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency criticized Abe and other Japanese officials for insisting on pressuring the North. The news agency, quoting the North's Rodong Sinmun newspaper, said Japan worries about being "marginalized from the structure around the Korean Peninsula."
PUTIN WEIGHS IN
Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the United States will have to offer North Korea solid security guarantees if it wants to strike a denuclearization deal.
Putin, speaking in an interview with a Chinese state broadcaster that aired Wednesday, said he hopes next week's meeting between Trump and Kim will bring positive results.
He hailed the "unprecedented" steps by the North, including the suspension of nuclear and missile tests, as important shows of goodwill.
The Russian leader also praised Trump for a "courageous and mature" decision to meet with Kim, but he noted that Pyongyang would want "absolute security guarantees" to abandon its nuclear bid.
"It can't be otherwise," Putin said. "The North Koreans see them standing before their eyes, so they would naturally demand some guarantees."
North Korea has publicly bristled at U.S. officials' insistence that it must agree to disarm before receiving anything in return, instead calling for a step-by-step approach to ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons. Trump has indicated flexibility in his approach, although it's still unclear what a path to denuclearization would look like.
Trump has been advised not to offer Kim any concessions, as the White House seeks to put the onus on the North Koreans to make the summit a success, one U.S. official said. The president is determined to walk out of the meeting if it doesn't go well, two officials said. Alternatively, Trump is toying with the idea of offering Kim a follow-up summit at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. -- perhaps in the fall -- if the two men hit it off.
"There could be more than one meeting, more that one conversation" between Trump and Kim, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday, adding that a nuclear deal may take "two, three, four, five" meetings.
Trump's aides consider him ready for a summit in which the White House believes he holds an advantage -- Singapore is a Westernized metropolis and will be the farthest Kim has traveled since taking charge of his country in 2011.
The president is "extensively briefed and very well prepared," Conway said.
U.S. officials believe that Kim is extremely worried about security at the summit and is fearful of assassination attempts, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Also Wednesday, a U.S. website reported that satellite imagery shows North Korea last month razed some facilities used for testing ballistic missiles.
In April, Kim announced he was suspending ballistic missile and nuclear testing, paving the way for negotiations on its nuclear weapons program with the United States.
A stand used for missile ejection tests was demolished near Kusong in the country's northwest, according North Korea expert Joseph Bermudez. Ejection tests measure the initial launch of a missile from a canister and its first-stage engine, rather than a full-blown launch.
His analysis was published by 38 North, a Washington-based website that tracks developments in the isolated nation's weapons programs.
In a show of goodwill, North Korea last month also demolished tunnels and buildings at its nuclear test site in the country's remote northeast and provided rare access to foreign journalists. That action is not irreversible, and many more significant measures would be needed to meet Trump's demand for denuclearization.
According to Wednesday's analysis, the Iha-ri site north of the city of Kusong was used for developing a medium-range solid-fuel missile, which can be fired faster and more secretly than missiles using liquid fuel. It could also have been used for testing mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles displayed by Pyongyang during a parade last year.
Work to raze the missile-test stand and nearby support structures began in the second week of May and appeared nearly complete in a May 19 image, the website said. However, it's unclear whether North Korea is suspending this aspect of its missile program or if it intends to erect similar facilities in the future.
Joel Wit, a former State Department official and 38 North editor, said it was a small step intended to signal North Korea's seriousness about halting its long-range missile programs. However, whether there are bigger steps to come remains unclear, he said.
Information for this article was contributed by Mari Yamaguchi, Matthew Pennington and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Jennifer Jacobs, Keith Zhai, Nick Wadhams and Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 06/07/2018
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