Japan PM urges caution on North Korea talks, wants 'concrete steps'

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) with South Korea's President Moon Jae In during their meeting in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb 9, 2018.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) with South Korea's President Moon Jae In during their meeting in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb 9, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's prime minister warned on Thursday (March 8) that North Korea's offer of denuclearisation talks with the US could be a ploy to play for time and stressed the need for Pyongyang to take "concrete" steps.

In his first public comments since an apparent diplomatic breakthrough between North and South Korea, Shinzo Abe said that talking for the sake of talking was "meaningless." "I've repeatedly said that we have to create a situation of putting maximum pressure on North Korea so that the North wants to have talks with us," Abe told MPs.

"However... it is true that the North has in the past earned time to develop nuclear capabilities and missiles" during periods of negotiation, Abe cautioned.

"Talks for the sake of talks are meaningless and we should never loosen sanctions just because North Korea is open to talks," added the hawkish prime minister.

In the latest chapter of a rapid Olympics-driven rapprochement on the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang has said it would consider giving up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees.

However, analysts have warned that any path to a US-North Korea deal over nuclear weapons is fraught with danger and uncertainty.

Japan, a close US ally in the region, is in the direct firing line of North Korean missiles and saw two fly over its territory in 2017, sparking outrage and lifting tensions to fever pitch.

Despite the apparent recent detente, Abe said Japan's position was unchanged: "North Korea has to show concrete actions towards denuclearisation by committing to abandon its nuclear programme via complete, verifiable and irreversible means."

Abe said he was looking forward to a briefing from a South Korean envoy about his talks with the North when he visits Japan next week.