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International relations

Japan, US and South Korea call for concrete action by North Korea

Japan's Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, left, shakes hands with South Korea's Defence Minister Song Young-moo, as they meet with U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis for a trilateral talks in Singapore on June 3.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE (Kyodo) -- Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said he reached an agreement Sunday with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts to work in tandem to urge North Korea to take concrete steps toward denuclearization, less than 10 days before a planned summit between Washington and Pyongyang.

But Onodera shied away from specifying whether the three allies confirmed the importance of exerting "pressure" on the North during his hour-long talk with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young Moo in Singapore.

The three "agreed to closely cooperate to compel North Korea to take concrete steps" in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, Onodera told reporters following the meeting with Mattis and Song.

Asked about whether he and his two counterparts shared the view at the latest gathering that they will continue to take a tough stance on Pyongyang, Onodera only said, "Japan, the United States and South Korea have basically agreed to maintain pressure."

While Tokyo continues to call on the international community to put pressure on North Korea to force it to abandon its nuclear and missile programs, Washington and Seoul have begun to hold dialogue with Pyongyang.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that he does not want to use the term "maximum pressure" on North Korea anymore because Washington and Pyongyang are now "getting along."

Mattis said before the start of the meeting with Onodera and Song, "North Korea will receive relief only when it demonstrates verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearization," without using the word "pressure."

With North Korea carrying out several nuclear and missile tests in recent years, Japan, the United States and South Korea had previously agreed to maximize pressure on Pyongyang during talks of high-ranking officials including leaders.

The three defense ministers met on the sidelines of the three-day Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, which ends Sunday. It was the first time since October last year for the Japanese, U.S., and South Korean defense chiefs to hold trilateral talks.

Onodera said he told Mattis and Song that Japan is keen to resolve the issue of North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s and to make Pyongyang give up its short- and medium-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan.

Amid growing speculation that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will call for a reduction or withdrawal of U.S. military forces in South Korea at the summit with Trump, the three defense ministers may have also exchanged views on the U.S. military presence in East Asia.

The first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit is scheduled to take place on June 12 in Singapore.

On Saturday, Onodera said in a speech at a session of the Shangri-La Dialogue, "We recognize that pressure will be maintained," adding, "We should not give rewards (to North Korea) only because (Pyongyang) has agreed to hold dialogue."

He also said North Korea has "deceived" the international community in the past, but Song, who attended the same session as Onodera, criticized the Japanese minister, saying progress will "not be made without negotiations."

Onodera and Song held bilateral talks separately later Sunday.

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