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Japan gov't wary of N. Korea intentions, worries Tokyo will be left out of the loop

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters in Tokyo about the inter-Korean summit meeting on April 27. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Japan remains wary of North Korea's moves because the North-South Korea summit on April 27 yielded neither a clear roadmap to denuclearization of the peninsula nor a resolution to the abduction of Japanese nationals.

After South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced the Panmunjom Declaration, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, "I welcome (the outcome) as the earnest discussion on denuclearization and other issues was a move toward the comprehensive resolution of various challenges surrounding North Korea." He expressed hope that the North will take concrete action and added that he will watch future developments closely.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono emphasized Japan will continue to put pressure on North Korea until the country takes concrete action to resolve various challenges. Meanwhile, a senior Foreign Ministry official said the government will calmly respond to the latest development while welcoming reconciliation between the Koreas. "There's no point in quibbling at the current stage," the official commented.

A source close to the government said all that happened during the summit was "within the scope of our projections." The government had assumed that the latest summit would be a venue to demonstrate friendship between the North and South.

A high-ranking official of the Defense Ministry, who watched a live TV broadcast of Kim and Moon taking each other's hand and crossing the military demarcation line, said, "North Korea took the initiative in the first stage of the summit. It is skillful at the mental side of the game."

A senior Foreign Ministry official told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We shouldn't be caught up in the moment and swing too far in a reconciliatory direction."

Skepticism that Pyongyang will move forward with denuclearization is rife in the Defense and Foreign ministries, where many believe the only politician who can truly pressure the North to abandon its atomic arms is U.S. President Donald Trump. Another source close to the Foreign Ministry said, "The true intensions of (Workers' Party of Korea) Chairman Kim probably can't be revealed until the U.S.-North Korea summit," a view shared by many Japanese government officials.

Prior to the April 27 talks, concerns were raised within the government that Moon might agree to ease economic sanctions on Pyongyang, a move that could have been a drag on the U.S.-North Korea summit. In the absence of such hiccups, the Japanese government hailed the latest summit after officials deemed the Korean leaders deserved a "passing grade" for creating an environment for the upcoming U.S.-North Korea talks.

However, the Panmunjom Declaration states that consultations toward making peace will be conducted among North and South Korea and the United States, or among North and South Korea, the United States and China.

When asked if Japan could be left behind in negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the abduction issue, Prime Minister Abe said, "That's impossible."

Still, it is within the realm of possibility that Japan will be the only country concerned that cannot directly hold talks with Pyongyang.

Prime Minister Abe is set to hold telephone talks with President Moon, who will brief Abe on the details of the Panmunjom meeting, such as what Moon and Kim said on the abduction issue.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Tanabe and Kazumasa Kawabe, Political News Department)

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