Ja­pan’s key role in check­ing N. Korea

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama chose Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Taro Aso to be the first for­eign leader to visit him in the Oval Of­fice (one of the ear­li­est meet­ings of a new U.S. pres­i­dent with any coun­try ex­cept a neigh­bor or Great Bri­tain) to high­light Ja­pan’s im­por­tance as an ally and its role in fix­ing the global credit cri­sis as the world’s sec­ond largest econ­omy. While the two heads of state in­di­cated that the sub­stance of their dis­cus­sion would be about the global econ­omy, equally im­por­tant was dis­cus­sion of the strat­egy in deal­ing with North Korea’s in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive ac­tions and its nu­clear pro­gram.

“They pledged to work closely through the Six-Party process to ver­i­fi­ably elim­i­nate North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram and to deal with the prob­lem of North Korea’s mis­siles,” was as spe­cific as the White House got re­gard­ing the dis­cus­sions. The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment was very anx­ious that Mr. Obama would meet with Ja­pan first, as Mr. Aso is con­sid­ered a lame-duck pres­i­dent, with an elec­tion likely to be forth­com­ing. That makes his early visit all the more re­veal­ing re­gard­ing whom the U.S. in­tends to part­ner with in deal­ing with Py­ongyang.

Hope­fully, by meet­ing with Ja­pan now, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is in­di­cat­ing it is stiff­en­ing its spine on ne­goti- Ja­panese were very con­cerned about U.S. con­ces­sions to Py­ongyang in the re­cent Six-Party talks. Ja­pan con­tends Py­ongyang still holds more than the 13 Ja­panese cit­i­zens North Korea ad­mit­ted min­is­tra­tion that proved ephemeral, North Korea kicked out in­ter­na­tional weapons in­spec­tors, de­clared its in­ten­tion to re­open its Yong­byon nu­clear fa­cil­ity, and con­ducted sev­eral mis­sile tests. One can count on the North Kore­ans to act badly.

Dur­ing her re­cent Asia trip, Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton gave the strong­est re­buke to North Korea and made clear for the first time that un­der­stand­ing the suc­ces­sion of the gov­ern­ment from Kim Jong-Il (who re­port­edly had a stroke last year and has not been seen pub­licly since) to one of his sons or some­one else was a key com­po­nent to any new ne­go­ti­a­tions.

This is all a good sign that the U.S. will not play any more of Py­ongyang’s games. But we hope that when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion says, “The Pres­i­dent un­der­scored his firm com­mit­ment to the U.S.-Ja­pan Al­liance and called for con­tin­ued progress in mod­ern­iz­ing the Al­liance by im­ple­ment­ing the joint re­align­ment ini­tia­tive,” they mean Mr. Obama has come to un­der­stand that mis­sile de­fense sys­tems are nec­es­sary in tam­ing North Korea and that Ja­pan will be a will­ing part­ner.

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