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Japan, U.S. condemn N. Korea, agree to seek greater efforts by China

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned North Korea on Thursday, saying its nuclear and missile development programs are "totally unacceptable" and agreeing to urge China to step up pressure on Pyongyang.

    Tillerson acknowledged that U.S. policy toward North Korea over the past two decades had "failed," underscoring the need for a new approach. To enhance cooperation in responding to the North's provocations, they confirmed Japan and the United States will seek to hold "two-plus-two" security talks involving their foreign and defense ministers soon.

    "In the face of this ever-escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required," Tillerson said at a joint press conference with Kishida following their talks in Tokyo.

    The administration of President Donald Trump is reviewing U.S. policy toward North Korea, ranging from putting it back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism to the use of military force and regime change to curb the nuclear threat posed by Pyongyang.

    "All options are on the table," Tillerson was quoted by a Japanese official as telling Kishida.

    Kishida said he "conveyed Japan's thinking" to Tillerson regarding the United States' ongoing policy review. "We agreed to deepen cooperation and establish a united stance" on the new policy, he said, although declining to comment on the details of the new approach.

    Kishida and Tillerson agreed that the role of China, a key economic and diplomatic benefactor of North Korea, is important to ensure U.N.-authorized sanctions on Pyongyang are strictly implemented to curb its aggressive programs.

    On top of test-firing more than 20 ballistic missiles and conducting two nuclear tests last year alone, North Korea launched four missiles nearly simultaneously toward the Sea of Japan from its northeast on March 6, with one falling as close as 200 kilometers from the Japanese coast.

    "It is important to recognize that the diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed...We have 20 years of failed approach," Tillerson said, noting such an approach had prompted North Korea to develop nuclear capabilities.

    Regarding the possibility of the United States redesignating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, Kishida said, "We have agreed that we should keep in close contact."

    Tillerson's visit to Tokyo is part of his first Asian tour since assuming his post on Feb. 1, which will also take him to South Korea and China.

    Tillerson and Kishida said they will cooperate not only bilaterally but also trilaterally with South Korea in addressing concerns about North Korea.

    "We confirmed that Japan, the United States and South Korea will coordinate to strongly urge North Korea to exercise restraint...and follow U.N. Security Council resolutions" that ban the country from using ballistic missile technology, Kishida said.

    Such trilateral cooperation is "critical" in addressing North Korea, Tillerson said at the outset of the talks, which was open to the media. He also called the U.S.-Japan alliance the "cornerstone of peace and stability" in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Despite their commitment to three-way coordination, relations between Japan and South Korea remain strained over the issue of "comfort women" procured for the Japanese military's wartime brothels.

    Japan has said the erection of statues symbolizing the women in front of Japanese diplomatic facilities in South Korea goes against the spirit of a 2015 bilateral agreement to "finally and irreversibly" resolve the protracted dispute over the issue.

    Tillerson said the United States "supports" the agreement and called on Japan and South Korea to "approach that agreement in earnest" to bring the row to a "rapid conclusion."

    It is important "there is no space" between the three countries in dealing with the threat of North Korea, he said.

    Following the talks with Kishida, Tillerson met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and agreed that Japan and the United States should share "strategic goals" over how to deal with North Korea, according to the Japanese government.

    They also touched on relations with Russia as Tokyo has been engaging with Moscow in a bid to move forward long-stalled territorial talks.

    Tillerson accepted Abe's policy of deepening discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the territorial dispute, the government said.

    Among other regional issues, Kishida and Tillerson shared concerns about the Chinese military's rising assertiveness in the East and South China seas.

    "While the security environment in this region can be challenging, the United States is committed to strengthening our role and we welcomed an increased Japanese commitment to their roles and responsibilities in our alliance," Tillerson said.

    They also agreed to cooperate in easing the burden on Okinawa Prefecture from hosting the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, confirming the countries will proceed with a plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from densely populated Ginowan to the coastal Henoko area of Nago, both in the southern island prefecture.

    On the economic front, they affirmed cooperation through a new high-level bilateral economic dialogue, to be led by Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as finance minister, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, according to a Japanese official.

    The dialogue is set to be the main stage for bilateral economic discussions after the withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, which reversed the preceding administration's promotion of the regional trade pact as a central part of its Asia policy.

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