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Japan worries Korea talks a Pyongyang ploy to buy time for nuke, missile programs

People walk past a public TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Tokyo on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. The text reads "South-North leaders' summit." (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The Japanese government is strongly wary of the recently announced talks between the leaders of North and South Korea as a possible gambit by Pyongyang to buy time for the continuation of its missile and nuclear arms programs.

The North Korean regime has also sought to separate the South from the United States and Japan, and some government figures also fear that the talks are designed to shift the diplomatic landscape under Pyongyang's own timing.

"If the North ceases its nuclear tests and missile launches during the North-South talks, it would be nothing more than a continuation of the status quo," one senior Japanese government official commented. "We've been conned (by Pyongyang) so many times before. If there is no progress on a concrete plan for the North to get rid of its nuclear weapons, then the talks are meaningless. We have no intention of changing our plan to keep up the pressure as long as denuclearization has not been achieved, and we expect the South to stand firm," the official continued.

A senior Foreign Ministry figure told the Mainichi Shimbun, "North Korea almost certainly intends to continue its nuclear weapons program as a matter of course."

Figures close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have called North Korea's conciliatory attitude "proof that economic sanctions are working." However, some also believe that Pyongyang is "trying to split South Korea off from the Japan-U.S.-South Korea alliance to get the sanctions repealed."

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on March 6, "Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned." The U.S. government thus appears to be essentially welcoming of the North-South thaw, though a concrete response will not be worked out until a coming visit to Washington by South Korean special envoys for talks.

The immediate focal point in this situation is U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises, which were already postponed once to April this year. The Trump administration has said the exercises will go ahead as scheduled, and the North Korean government has expressed "understanding" for the operation going ahead as in previous years -- a departure from its usual strong protests over the maneuvers.

However, there are no signs that Washington and Pyongyang are about to get suddenly closer. The U.S. wishes to start any negotiations with the issue of denuclearizing the North, while Pyongyang wants to push the nuclear weapons problem down the schedule.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated on Feb. 26 that "the Trump administration is 100 percent committed to the permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," and that the U.S. "will continue to lead a campaign of maximum pressure on the (North Korean) regime" to that end. Washington is expected to try to extract compromises from Pyongyang while putting all options, including military action, on the table.


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