North Korea foreign minister suggested dialogue to Japanese counterpart

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho arrives at the 50th Association of South East Asian Nations anniversary in Manila, Philippines, on Aug 8, 2017.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho arrives at the 50th Association of South East Asian Nations anniversary in Manila, Philippines, on Aug 8, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

TOKYO - North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho sounded out Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono about a possible dialogue between their countries, during a short conversation that both had on Aug 6 in Manila, government sources said.

The aim of Mr Ri’s suggestion was believed to be to rattle Japan by hinting that there is room for negotiation, as Japan, the United States and other countries are stepping up international pressure on North Korea to stop nuclear and missile development by the administration of leader Kim Jong Un, according to The Japan News.

Mr Kono had a brief exchange with Mr Ri on the evening of Aug 6 at the venue for a dinner party for foreign ministers attending the Asean forum. The two spoke before the party began.

During the conversation, Mr Kono told Mr Ri that his country should take concrete action to comprehensively resolve the nuclear and missile development issue as well as the issue of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea, based on the 2002 Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration, The Japan News reported.

In response, Mr Ri expressed North Korea’s desire to hold a dialogue, the sources said.

Observers said Mr Ri’s remarks may have been aimed at eventually holding direct negotiations with the administration of US President Donald Trump, based on a strategy of securing concessions from the US while continuing North Korea’s development of missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the mainland US.

A government source said Mr Ri’s remarks could reflect North Korea’s hopes that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is on good terms with Mr Trump, will serve as a bridge between Pyongyang and Washington,  The Japan News said.

“North Korea apparently wants to hold dialogue with the United States, and for this purpose, it may be considering using Japan,” the official said, according to a report in The Japan Times.

The Japanese government will carefully examine North Korea’s motives, the sources said.
Japan and the US maintain the position of not holding dialogue with North Korea unless it abandons its nuclear arms and missile programmes, according to The Japan Times.

In a telephone conference on Tuesday, Mr Abe and Mr Trump agreed to maintain their close cooperation – and their cooperation with South Korea.

Mr Abe later told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office: “We’ve agreed it is most important to prevent North Korea from going through with launching missiles.”

The two leaders also agreed that there is no meaning in dialogue for dialogue’s sake, and that the international community must be united in putting pressure on Pyongyang, The Japan news reported.

Japan and the US are set to hold “two-plus-two” meeting of their foreign and defence ministers in Washington this week.  Mr Kono and  Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera will meet with  US Defence Secretary James  Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to Reuters.

They intend to discuss in detail how Japan’s Self-Defence Forces and the US military forces will deal with the North Korean issue.