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What's At Stake For Japan As U.S. Prepares For Talks With North Korea


Now let's turn to that possible summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. To try and make sure it happens, intense diplomacy has been underway. U.S. and North Korean envoys are meeting in New York, in Singapore and at the DMZ, the border between North and South Korea. South Korea's president was just in Washington. And next week, it is Japan's turn. Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will visit Washington to talk about the outcome Japan is hoping to see with this summit. And here to talk about that is Sheila Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations.


SHEILA SMITH: Thank you.

KELLY: So what is the outcome Japan hopes to see if and when the summit comes to be?

SMITH: So I think Prime Minister Abe is really coming to just check in with President Trump to make sure that he's still on the same page he was three weeks or so ago when Prime Minister Abe visited Florida.

KELLY: Was last in the States, right.

SMITH: We just had a summit. But there's a lot that's happened in between. There's been the cancellation and the rhetoric and the escalation and, OK, maybe we are back on again in terms of planning. So I think this is a checking in. And it's a question about whether or not the Trump administration is ready. They won't put it that way, I suspect. But I believe the prime minister just wants to make sure he understands what the Trump administration's game plan really is.

KELLY: How closely has Japan been consulted in the run-up to this summit?

SMITH: So this has been remarkable, actually. If you compare this round of consultation between United States and its allies, Japan and South Korea, on the North Korea problem - comparing it to the 1990s, then again to the 2000s - this is pretty high-level stuff for a president and a prime minister to be talking this often. I think last year they spoke almost 20 times, maybe more than 20 times.

KELLY: Well, and as you note, having Abe in the U.S. twice in three weeks speaks volumes.

SMITH: Exactly. It speaks volumes.

KELLY: You said Abe is here to consult and kind of just check in. But he wants something out of this. In terms of the big goal of what Japan would like to see a summit produce, what does Japan want?

SMITH: So the prime minister outlined this. And the president said, yes, I hear you, right?

KELLY: President Trump?

SMITH: President Trump said that when they were in Mar-a-Lago three weeks ago. And that - there's three points. The Japanese are very straightforward. They want a complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. They want complete transparency and openness. They also want us to address the ballistic missile threat. And of course, they're exposed to a wide range of missiles in Kim Jong Un's arsenal. And we saw that last year in 2017 when many of them were lobbed in Japan's direction.

And they also want the president to represent their concern and their need for accountability on the Japanese citizens who were abducted by the North Korean regime. These abductions are decades old now. But they've been trying to get the North Koreans to account for missing Japanese who they know had been taken hostage, kidnapped from Japanese soil. And they know that they were living in North Korea.

What I think is interesting now, though - and this is a telephone conversation and a readout of that conversation from a couple of days ago - is that President Trump has agreed not only to have disarmament focus on nuclear or fissile material but on other weapons of mass destruction as well.

KELLY: Chemical biological weapons.

SMITH: Exactly. So if you look at the statement that the White House issued after the phone call with the prime minister of Japan, it included all three - nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

KELLY: That is something Japan wants. Is it clear yet whether the U.S. will put that on the table?

SMITH: The president just committed himself to doing it in that phone call with the prime minister. So again, Japan is vulnerable to the missile threat from the North. The North, we know, has a considerable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Kim Jong Un assassinated his half-brother in Malaysia with a nerve agent that is banned under international treaties. So Kim Jong Un is not reticent about using these weapons if he sees the need for it. So the Japanese are quite worried.

KELLY: Sheila Smith, thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.

KELLY: Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.