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North Korea

Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe agree to keep pressure up on North Korea

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 February, 2018, 1:37am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 February, 2018, 3:16am

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he and US President Donald Trump agreed in telephone talks on Wednesday night to continue to put pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes.

The talks, which lasted more than an hour, emphasised the need to keep leaning on the country until it seeks a dialogue on giving up its nuclear programme.

“Dialogue for the sake of dialogue would be meaningless,” Abe said. “We talked thoroughly about what we should do from here on to make the denuclearisation of North Korea a reality.”

Abe also said the two confirmed the unshakeable bond of the Japan-US alliance in the face of the North Korea threat.

A senior government official said later that Abe and Trump shared the importance of US-South Korea joint military exercises.

Abe’s conversation with Trump, the second this month, followed a display of unity between North and South Korea at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

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It came amid concern in Tokyo that the thaw between the two Koreas could compromise efforts to maximise diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang and lead to the start of dialogue on North Korea’s terms, effectively accepting it as a nuclear power.

Ahead of the opening ceremony of the Olympics on Friday, Abe held talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and confirmed the two countries will continue to work trilaterally with the United States to maximise pressure on North Korea.

But worry has spread in the Abe administration that South Korea may head into dialogue with North Korea on its own following a meeting between Moon and a high-ranking delegation from Pyongyang.

The delegation’s visit to South Korea culminated in an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for Moon to visit Pyongyang for talks.

The united front between Tokyo and Washington appears to be also under scrutiny after US Vice President Mike Pence suggested in a recent interview that the United States is open to holding talks with North Korea while maintaining the “maximum pressure campaign.”

Pence pushes back on Pyongyang but has US been outmanoeuvred?

In the wake of the interview, which Pence gave aboard Air Force Two on his way home from the Olympics, Abe and members of his Cabinet have insisted there is no change to the position shared by Tokyo and Washington.

They also said that dialogue must not be held with North Korea until it takes concrete steps toward denuclearisation.

When Abe and Trump last spoke on the phone on February 2, they confirmed they would continue working together with South Korea in putting pressure on North Korea to abandon the weapons programmes.