WASHINGTON, March 12 (Yonhap) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Japan and South Korea will give him a chance to coordinate U.S. policy and its approach toward North Korea, a State Department official said Friday.
Ned Price said Blinken’s talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts will provide an important ingredient for a new U.S. policy toward the North, but said the policy itself will likely be announced at a later date.
“It’s an especially important one because it’s an especially important ingredient in our North Korea policy,” the spokesman said of Blinken’s upcoming trip that will begin next week.
The top U.S. diplomat is set to visit Japan on Monday through Wednesday, followed by a two-day trip to Seoul that will end Thursday.
“I say it’s an important ingredient in our North Korea policy and our ongoing North Korea policy review because we know, and this applies to every challenge across the board but North Korea is an excellent example of it, we will not be as effective at achieving our interests if we don’t approach the challenge of North Korea, including the challenge of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its other areas of malign behavior, in lockstep with those partners and allies,” Price added in a telephonic press briefing.
The State Department is undergoing a comprehensive review of its North Korea policy that it says will provide a “new approach” to the North Korean nuclear issue.
Price earlier underscored the importance of cooperation with South Korea and Japan in efforts to rid the North of its nuclear ambitions, saying the U.S. will move only after bringing its allies to the “same page” as the U.S.
“It’s imperative that we approach this challenge with them together,” he said at the press briefing, reiterating the importance of cooperation with U.S. allies.
“I wouldn’t look for any sort of formal announcement about our North Korea policy review on this trip, precisely because this trip is a key ingredient to that policy review,” he added.
The U.S. has also been highlighting the importance of cooperation among its key allies — South Korea and Japan — in dealing with the nuclear-armed North.
However, Seoul-Tokyo relations have steadily deteriorated since Japan imposed restrictions on South Korea-bound exports of key materials used to produce semiconductors in what was widely viewed as an attempt to retaliate against a Seoul court ruling that ordered Japanese firms to pay compensation to South Koreans forced into free labor during World War II.
Their bilateral relations again found a new low this year when another Seoul court ordered the Japanese government to pay compensation to former Korean comfort women forced into sex slavery for the Japanese military during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea.
On Friday (Seoul time), a 93-year-old former Korean comfort woman, Lee Yong-su, sent an open letter to Blinken, asking for a meeting during his trip to South Korea to discuss the thorny issue.
The State Department spokesman urged South Korea and Japan to address their history disputes in a manner that will promote reconciliation, which in turn will promote trilateral cooperation with the United States.
“We have long encouraged Japan and South Korea to work together on history related issues in a way that promotes healing and that promotes reconciliation,” said Price.
“That trilateral relationship is something that Secretary Blinken … has invested quite a bit of time and focus into, and of course in the upcoming trip, we are prioritizing travel to these important treaty allies, not only to signal the strength of the bilateral alliance between the United States and Japan and the United States and South Korea, but also the importance we placed on that trilateral relationship as we know just how important it will be for every challenge we face in the region and beyond,” he added.
Japan frequently denies having forced women into sexual slavery for its military during World War II, despite extensive testimony from victims in many Asian countries, including China and the Philippines.
The State Department has consistently recognized the war atrocity committed by Japan.
“As the United States has stated many times, the trafficking of women for sexual purposes by the Japanese military during World War II was an egregious violation of human rights,” a State Department spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency earlier.