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Yoichi Shimada

【#592】Meaning of Abe’s Call for “Unconditional” Meeting with Kim

Yoichi Shimada / 2019.05.15 (Wed)

May 13, 2019

     Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently vowed to “unconditionally” meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, instead of reiterating his earlier rhetoric that “any simple meeting would be meaningless,” leading some people to suspect his switch to an appeasement policy. However, he has informed Kim of “conditions” through U.S. President Donald Trump for Japan’s economic assistance to North Korea, including a switch from Pyongyang’s traditional explanation that North Korea abducted only 13 Japanese citizens, of whom eight are dead. If deciding to meet the conditions, Pyongyang will accept a Japan-North Korea summit. If not, it won’t. We do not have to interpret the word “unconditional” as meaning anything more than diplomatic rhetoric.

Kim was pressed by U.S. to resolve abduction issue
     In early May, I had an opportunity to interview a number of senior U.S. officials in charge of North Korea about Washington-Pyongyang negotiations.
     At the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February, according to the officials, the U.S. side came up with a readiness to cooperate in North Korea’s full-blown economic development on two conditions – (1) dismantling not only nuclear weapons but also all other weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, and missiles to deliver those weapons, and (2) showing serious improvements regarding human rights issues. Washington told Pyongyang clearly that human rights improvements would include the resolution of the abduction issue, without which there would be no Japanese assistance, the officials said.
     When President Trump took up the abduction issue at the first part of the Hanoi summit, Kim tried to switch to another topic without discussing the issue, the officials said. When President Trump raised the issue again at the second part and urged Kim to respond, Kim apparently thought that he could not change the subject, leading to “substantial discussion” on the matter. The U.S. side told Kim that “you should finish the job.” Details of the discussion were reported to Prime Minister Abe, they said.
     Since just after the Hanoi summit, media reports said President Trump raised the abduction issue multiple times at the summit. The U.S. officials described how it was raised.

No change in Japan’s conditions for assistance to N. Korea
     Prime Minister Abe has made no change to Japan’s conditions for economic assistance to North Korea. If views suspecting Abe’s softening spread needlessly, North Korea may become too confident, increasing the possibility of a Japan-North Korea summit ending up without any agreement.
     A good example is the Hanoi U.S.-North Korea summit that broke down. Before the summit, main stream U.S. media dominantly speculated that President Trump plagued with the Russiagate scandal could try to cut irresponsible deals to score good points with diplomacy.
     North Korea might have misinterpreted such media speculation as truth, being encouraged to come up with the impossible demand for the United States to lift most of sanctions in exchange for the shutdown of some nuclear facilities.
     The Japanese and U.S. governments have made no change to their stance that the United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea sanctions should be implemented completely towards North Korea’s denuclearization. We should never propose economic assistance to induce negotiations. Such proposal might lead North Korea to misinterpret Japan’s intentions. If this point is secured, diplomatic remarks may be allowed to be flexible.

Yoichi Shimada is a Planning Committee member and a senior fellow at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and professor at Fukui Prefectural University. He covers U.S. politics and diplomacy.