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S. Korea, US, Japan discuss ways to strategize ahead of historic summits with NK

With South Korea and the US scrambling to present a united front ahead of historic summits with North Korea, the allies’ top security advisers held a trilateral meeting with their Japanese counterpart to avoid “past mistakes” in dealing with the decadeslong standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

According to Cheong Wa Dae on Monday, National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong met with his US counterpart H.R. McMaster and Japan’s Shotaro Yachi in San Francisco for a trilateral meeting over the weekend.

The three countries’ top security advisers agreed to avoid past failures in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program after discussing ways to achieve the complete denuclearization of North Korea and successful summits with North Korea, Cheong Wa Dae added. 

“The attendees agreed that it was important not to repeat the mistakes of the past. ... They pledged to maintain close coordination over the coming weeks,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom said. 

National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong(left) and his US counterpart H.R. McMaster and Japan`s Shotaro Yachi. (Yonhap)
National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong(left) and his US counterpart H.R. McMaster and Japan`s Shotaro Yachi. (Yonhap)
The trilateral meeting followed Chung’s three-day visits to China and Russia last week. The outcome of Chung’s visits to North Korea’s allies was briefed to his US and Japanese counterparts, a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters under the customary condition of anonymity.

The meeting was largely designed to reaffirm trilateral coordination amid concerns that neighboring countries, particularly Japan, are being marginalized during the bilateral diplomatic breakthrough between Seoul and Pyongyang and Washington and Pyongyang.

Aiming to dispel such concerns, the Moon Jae-in administration is seeking to hold a bilateral summit with Japan, as well as with US and China, sometime between the inter-Korean summit  and US-North Korea summit, which are to be held in April and May, respectively.

During a phone call on Friday, President Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to hold a trilateral summit between South Korea, Japan and China “as soon as possible.” Abe also expressed hopes for a summit with North Korea, according to Cheong Wa Dae.

“Given that the inter-Korean summit and US-North Korea summit take place one after another, South Korea and the US agreed that the success of the summits is crucial to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the Cheong Wa Dae official said.

Such moves appear to suggest a shift in the US and its key allies’ approaches in dealing with North Korea, having previously focused on pressuring North Korea through economic sanctions and military threats.

The three countries’ top security advisers have advocated a US-led “maximum pressure campaign” against North Korea, which had conducted relentless ballistic missile launches until it extended an olive branch to Seoul in January.

Chung, McMaster and Yachi previously met in January, weeks after North Korea decided to send delegates to the PyeongChang Olympics. During the closed-door meeting in San Francisco in January, the participants reportedly agreed to continue with unified pressure on the Kim Jong-un regime. 

(jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)

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