TOKYO • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday he would coordinate closely with Japan during denuclearisation talks with North Korea and promised to raise the issue of the abduction of Japanese citizens in his meetings in Pyongyang.
"We will have a fully coordinated, unified view of how to proceed, which will be what is needed if it is going to be successful in denuclearising North Korea," Mr Pompeo told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. "We will bring up the issue of the abductees as well," he said.
Mr Abe thanked Mr Pompeo, who arrived in Tokyo yesterday, for visiting Japan before meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un today.
Mr Pompeo also said Japan and the United States were in a position to finalise a trade agreement after Mr Abe and US President Donald Trump discussed the issue in New York last month.
The two sides have agreed to start trade talks in an arrangement that, for now, protects Japanese carmakers from further tariffs, seen as a major threat to the export-dependent economy. Mr Trump is unhappy with Japan's US$69 billion (S$95 billion) trade surplus with the US - nearly two-thirds of it from auto exports - and wants a bilateral agreement to address the issue.
Despite Mr Kim's pledge to denuclearise the Korean peninsula, Japan - one of Washington's key allies in Asia - still considers North Korea to be a "dire threat" and is pushing ahead with plans to bolster its ballistic missile defences.
Despite Mr Kim's pledge to denuclearise the Korean peninsula, Japan - one of Washington's key allies in Asia - still considers North Korea to be a "dire threat", and is pushing ahead with plans to bolster its ballistic missile defences.
Tokyo also insists that North Korea give a full accounting of the Japanese citizens it had abducted to train as spies and return any who may be still alive before it agrees to normalise ties. A restoration of ties could lead to Japan releasing what could be billions of dollars of war reparations and economic assistance to its impoverished neighbour.
Mr Pompeo will travel to Seoul after leaving Pyongyang and will head to Beijing before returning to the US tomorrow. Speaking to a pool reporter en route to Tokyo, he said his aim in Pyongyang was "to make sure we understand what each side is truly trying to achieve".
He also said he hoped to be able to agree on a "general date and location" for a second summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim following their meeting in Singapore in June.
Mr Pompeo's last visit to North Korea failed to make progress, with Pyongyang denouncing him for making "gangster-like demands".
Recently, he angered North Korea by insisting that sanctions must remain in place until Pyongyang gives up its nuclear weapons.
He declined to say if he would agree to North Korea's demand for a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War or to South Korea's suggestion that he avoid pressing again for an inventory of Pyongyang's nuclear arms to break the stalemate.