January 14, 2020 13:50
North Korea took up around the lion's share or 40 minutes of a 75-minute phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month.
A source said the phone conference on Dec. 21 took place partly because North Korea warned of a possible "Christmas gift" in early December, saying the Trump administration was running out of time to salvage nuclear negotiations.
Trump called Abe before the Japanese leader left for a trilateral meeting with the leaders of South Korea and China to seek his advice in dealing with the North.
Abe apparently advised Trump that it was important to take pre-emptive steps against a North Korean provocation. He proposed a unified hardline stance against the North by the U.S. and Japan.
The two countries reportedly considered a strong response in case North Korea did resort to a provocation.
Abe asked Trump to take tough steps even if the North test-fired a short or mid-range missile that is not capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. At the time, the White House issued a statement saying it agreed to "continue close communication and coordination" in case of a North Korean threat.
Abe said after the telephone call that he and Trump agreed to "coordinate closely" on steps to deal with a North Korean provocation.
The two leaders have held 14 summits and spoke over the telephone 33 times so far, compared to just a handful between Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is on the face of it rather more affected by any North Korean threat.
This is not the first time that Trump turned to Abe for advice on how to deal with North Korea. Washington and Tokyo have become even closer in their coordinated efforts to deal with North Korea after South Korea threatened to terminate a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact with Japan last year.
U.S.-South Korea relations, on the other hand, are showing signs of strain. National security adviser Chung Eui-yong said Friday, "President Trump made well-wishing remarks about [Kim's] birthday and asked Moon to deliver his message to [Kim]."
But North Korean's chief nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan shot back saying, "South Korea, not a member of the U.S. clan, went so frivolous as to convey the greetings from the U.S. president. It seems it still has lingering hope for playing the role of 'mediator' in the [North Korea]-U.S. relations."
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha left for the U.S. on Monday to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday. Kang told reporters before departing that she intends to discuss South Korea's possible deployment of troops to U.S. military adventures in the Strait of Hormuz.
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