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North Korea topic of South Korea, Japan, US defense-level talks

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Figuring out how to defuse North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in the wake of Kim Jong Il’s death, and the transfer of power to his son, Kim Jong Un, is pushing the U.S., Japan and South Korea to renew efforts to foster trilateral defense initiatives.

A three-way security consultation in Seoul was to focus on “mutual concerns” related to weapons of mass destruction, maritime security, cyber threats and humanitarian assistance, according to officials.

In addition, the three sides were to discuss the current situation in North Korea and how they need to work more closely together, according to an official at South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense who declined to be named in accordance with MND policy.

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The meeting, which started Monday, was scheduled to finish up Tuesday, but there was no immediate comment from any of the participants on the results of the talks.

It is the first trilateral defense meeting since Washington, Tokyo and Seoul declared a united front against Pyongyang in late 2010 after the North shelled Yeonpyeong island. Diplomats from the three countries met Jan. 17 to discuss reviving the so-called “six-party talks” that also involve North Korea, China and Russia in the aftermath of the senior Kim’s death in December. The six-party talks began in 2003 but broke down in 2009, when North Korea resumed its uranium enrichment program, kicked out foreign nuclear inspectors and test-fired a missile.

Longtime U.S. allies, Japan and South Korea host more than 100,000 American military personnel on dozens of large bases. Yet despite their common interests in regional security and programs such as missile defense, Japan and South Korea cooperate very little because of lingering political tension from Japan’s brutal rule of the Korean Peninsula from the early 20th century until the end of World War II. Proposals in recent years for Japan and South Korea to share military intelligence and other resources have stalled since 2010 because of those tensions. That has limited what the U.S. can share and how it interacts with its two allies.

The need for military cooperation between Japan and South Korea emerged most clearly following North Korea’s 2009 missile launch when Japanese and Korean Aegis destroyers independently tracked North Korea’s multi-stage rocket, but were unable to share data with each other, Asia analyst Scott Snyder wrote for the Council on Foreign Affairs earlier this month.

While the trilateral defense meeting itself is a positive development, actual results will likely be modest, said Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu; not only because of the historical relationship between Japan and South Korea, Roy wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes, but also to “avoid antagonizing China with the appearance of an ‘Asian NATO.’ ”

“The United States seems ready to move from bilaterals (military partnerships) toward a multilateral framework,” Roy wrote. “But U.S. partners will lag behind.”

Reporters Elena Sugiyama and Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

reedc@pstripes.osd.mil

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