Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Saturday, March 17, 2018, 10:37 a.m. Washington D.C., United States of America
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: This morning from around 9:30 a.m. for approximately 45 minutes, I held a meeting with Dr. Kang Kyung-wha, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea (ROK). I expressed my appreciation for the detailed explanation provided by Mr. Seo Hoon, Director of the National Intelligence Service of the ROK about his interactions with North Korea, and also conveyed my respect for the efforts by the Government of the ROK. I also noted that based on past experience, it is necessary to uphold the position to continue to apply maximum pressure to ensure the realization of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) by North Korea, and the ROK side is of exactly the same view. I stated that Japan's stance of seeking to normalize its relations with North Korea remains the same, in accordance with the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, through comprehensively resolving outstanding issues of concern such as the abductions, nuclear and missile issues, and I also requested the ROK side to raise the abductions issue during the upcoming inter-Korean summit meeting. I requested close cooperation between Japan and the ROK towards the resolution of the abductions issue. In addition, I noted that Japan will engage in close trilateral cooperation with the ROK and the United States ahead of the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea summit meetings. Foreign Minister Kang stated that it is necessary to apply maximum pressure to ensure that North Korea's words are translated into concrete actions to abandon its nuclear and missile programs, and that the ROK will engage in close cooperation with Japan towards resolution of the abductions issue. Given that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on “A New Japan-Republic of Korea Partnership towards the Twenty-first Century” concluded by President Kim Dae Jung and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, we also confirmed that we will work together to advance a future-oriented Japan-ROK relationship while appropriately managing difficult issues.
Also, yesterday afternoon (March 16), I had the opportunity to meet with the 20 high school and university students who are participating in the first “Think of Okinawa’s Future in the United States” (TOFU) program. The 20 participants from high schools and universities in Okinawa have visited Washington D.C. and I believe they are now on their way to New York. I hope that in line with the objectives of the program, by meeting with various people in the U.S. and exchanging opinions, they will have an opportunity to think about how Japan and Okinawa are viewed from the United States and also consider Okinawa’s future, and share their experiences with their friends back in Okinawa. I had the opportunity to interact with the participants, and I was frankly impressed by the sheer breadth of their thoughts on various matters and ideas for what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will give all the support it is able to give for this program and I would be delighted if, through its continuation, it helps to stimulate the ideas of young people in Okinawa by giving them the opportunity to have an external perspective. Nothing would give the ministry greater pleasure than to see the young people of Okinawa being provided with various platforms for participation, in accordance the original objectives of the TOFU program. That ends my opening remarks.
Reporter: Did you tell the ROK side today that if North Korea were to accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Japan would be prepared to cover the initial costs?
Minister Kono: We share the same view as the ROK that it is necessary for North Korea to accept IAEA inspections. I noted that Japan is ready to cover the initial costs of such inspections.
Reporter: You have just stated that you made a request for the abductions issue to be raised in the inter-Korean summit meeting, so what kind of response did you receive from the ROK side?
Minister Kono: Discussions are continuing concerning the format the inter-Korean summit meeting will take, but today we confirmed the necessity of the ROK also working closely with Japan towards the resolution of the abductions issue.
Reporter: As preparations continue for the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea summit meetings, did the ROK side raise any general areas or points on which it would like Japan’s cooperation?
Minister Kono: One point is that we must continue to apply maximum pressure so that North Korea’s words about denuclearization are translated into actions. Another point is that as North Korea will probably take incremental actions towards denuclearization, we want to engage in close cooperation with the United States and the ROK to ensure that there are no inconsistencies in how we respond to any such actions by North Korea. I also confirmed this point with the U.S. side yesterday (March 16) and I think that Japan, the U.S. and the ROK are in broad alignment in terms of how to respond.
Reporter: Was there any specific mention of a particular role that the ROK wants Japan to fulfil?
Minister Kono: I think that as we move forward there may be specific roles that could emerge within the context of Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation, but at the moment we have confirmed that we will continue to work closely together in the same direction, given the necessity of realizing CVID and the abandonment of not only inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM) but also short- and medium-range missiles.
Reporter: In your series of meetings with the U.S. did you convey Japan’s readiness to cover the initial costs of IAEA inspections?
Minister Kono: I recently visited the IAEA, where I discussed various matters with Mr. Yukiya Amano, Director General of the IAEA, and I discussed these also with the U.S. side yesterday. In that meeting I stated that Japan is prepared to cover the initial costs that will be required for IAEA inspections.
Reporter: You earlier referred to a future-oriented Japan-ROK relationship, so did you have any discussions about the Japan-ROK agreement on the comfort women issue in the meeting?
Minister Kono: As almost all of the time was spent discussing issues relating to North Korea, there was no time left to cover other individual issues.
Reporter: Did you not call for the ROK side to implement the Japan-ROK agreement?
Minister Kono: There was no time to engage in discussions on specific bilateral issues.
Reporter: In recent opinion polls conducted by media organizations, the approval rate has fallen sharply. Some of the latest polls suggest that more people do not support the Cabinet than those who do. What do you think are the factors behind the drop in the support rate?
Minister Kono: I understand that various media organizations are conducting opinion polls so I would like to see the figures for myself, but I think that it is undeniable that the Moritomo Gakuen issue is a factor. I think that it is necessary for the Government to explain thoroughly those things that need to be explained and for each Cabinet minister to diligently attend to their various areas of responsibility. As Foreign Minister I will make every effort to do the things that I need to do, including with regard to the issue of North Korea.
Reporter: Some people have also noted that this matter calls into question the credibility of legislative bodies, including the trustworthiness of Diet responses. As one of the Diet members, what is your view of the situation?
Minister Kono: Of trust in legislative bodies?
Reporter: Of the trustworthiness of the Diet and responses given in the Diet.
Minister Kono: My view is that as the Diet is the supreme organ of state power, it is imperative to engage earnestly in questions and responses in the Diet.