Can Abe channel Trump on North Korea?

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French President Emmanuel Macron drew loud applause from the UN General Assembly chamber on Tuesday, Sept. 25, after he gave an impassioned plea for continued multilateralism and blasted the isolationist politics of the US. (Internet)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a longtime hardliner on North Korea, said he was willing to meet Kim Jong-un at a speech at the UN General Assembly on 25th September.

Abe, who one year ago warned at the United Nations that the window for diplomacy with North Korea was closing, took a more open but still cautious tone in his latest address to the world body.

But he said that any summit would be devoted to resolving a decades-old row over North Korea’s abductions of Japanese civilians - a deeply emotive issue for much of the Japanese public on which Abe built his political career.

“In order to resolve the abduction issue, I am also ready to break the shell of mutual distrust with North Korea, get off to a new start and meet face to face with Chairman Kim Jong-un,” Abe said in his UN address.

“But if we are to have one, then I am determined that it must contribute to the resolution of the abduction issue.” Abe added.

He stressed that no summit was yet in the works - and appealed to Kim to show his own readiness. “North Korea is now at a crossroads at which it will either seize or fail to seize the historic opportunity it was afforded,” Abe said.

North Korea allegedly kidnapped scores of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train the regime’s spies in Japanese language and culture. Japan officially lists 17 of its citizens as having been abducted to teach their language and customs to North Korean spies. In 2002, the North Korea reportedly allowed five of them to return to Japan after a summit in Pyongyang between the then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

But it is reported that Japan has never believed North Korean claims that eight of the remaining abductees died and that four more had never entered the country.

It isn’t clear how much progress Abe would be able to make on resolving the abduction issue – his precondition for the normalisation of diplomatic ties and Japanese support for the North Korean econom. North Korea has reportedly said it believes the issue is closed, and has warned that repeated Japanese attempts to revive it could jeapordise any meeting between Abe and Kim.

Abe’s comments at the UN came after the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, told him Kim had expressed a willingness to meet “at an appropriate time” during their  meeting in North Korea last week.

Moon told Abe he believed better ties between North Korea and Japan would “accelerate” the denuclearisation process, according to Yonhap news agency. “I believe the normalisation of North Korea-Japan relations is required in the process of establishing peace on the Korean peninsula, and I will actively support and cooperate so a North Korea-Japan summit will be held,” Moon said.

Kim has met Trump, Moon and Chinese leader Xi Jinping but had previously expressed no desire for dialogue with Abe. In contrast to the spirit of détente that has developed in its relations with Seoul and Washington, North Korea has lambasted Japan’s lukewarm reaction to denuclearisation and its strong support for continued sanctions.

In its annual defence white paper published last month, Japan claimed the regime poses a “serious and imminent threat” to its security. It said the North’s nuclear capability and ballistic missiles proved that the security environment around Japan was becoming “increasingly severe”.

In an apparent attempt to drive a wedge between Seoul and Tokyo, North Korea recently called on Japan to atone for its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula – a sensitive issue on both sides of the Korean border – and accused it of attempting to play the victim by raising the abduction issue.

On 24th September, various reports suggest that US President Trump said he was looking forward to a second meeting with the “very open and terrific” North Korean leader, to be announced in a “pretty short period of time”.

Japan’s then-prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, travelled to Pyongyang in 2002 and 2004 to seek a new relationship with the current leader’s father Kim Jong-il and was told by North Korea that remaining abduction victims were dead - a stance adamantly rejected by Japanese family members and campaigners.

Speculation has been rising that Abe could meet Kim, who reportedly told Trump during their summit in June in Singapore that he was willing to talk to regional rival Japan.

With South Korea’s dovish President Moon Jae-in also courting Kim, fears have risen in Japan that it could be shut out of any ultimate resolution on North Korea if it refuses dialogue.

The world is torn in wars among nations and when one area looks for peaceful solution, other areas rise up. For example war is raging in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and in the West Bank.

On 26th September, President Macron urged leaders to reject “the law of the most powerful,” in what was seen as a veiled rebuke of the US. He also stressed the need for dialogue with Iran, which Trump accused of having a “blood agenda.”

French President Emmanuel Macron drew loud applause from the UN General Assembly chamber, after he gave an impassioned plea for continued multilateralism and blasted the isolationist politics of the US.

While he admitted that there was growing skepticism towards international bodies such as the European Union and UN, Macron warned that “Nationalism always leads to defeat.”

Macron took to the podium after US President Donald Trump had earlier vowed to never surrender American sovereignty from “unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy” and condemned the Iranian regime for having a “blood agenda” in Yemen and Syria.

Macron warned that Trump’s isolationist policies, particularly towards Iran, only raised the potential threat of conflict.  Unilateralism leads “directly to isolation and conflict ... to the detriment of everyone, even in the end those who thought they were strongest,” he declared. “The law of the jungle does not protect any people against any threat whatsoever, whether chemical or nuclear.”

Macron also called for “dialogue and multilateralism” in dealing with issues concerning Iran, saying that the Iran nuclear accord had helped to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

“What will bring a real solution to the situation in Iran and what has already stabilized it? The law of the strongest? Pressure from only one side? No!” he said. “We know that Iran was on a nuclear military path but what stopped it? The 2015 Vienna accord.”

The French president also suggested that Iran should be allowed to sell its oil on global markets. This, he pointed out, would go some way in solving Trump’s irritations over the rising oil price.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his government would unveil proposals “in the coming months” to boost security across the EU, in a bid to diminish the bloc’s reliance on the US for its defense needs.   “Europe can no longer rely on the United States for its security,” Macron reportedly said during a speech to French diplomats and lawmakers. “It is up to us to guarantee European security.”

Macron said the EU needed to “take new initiatives, build new alliances” to ensure its preservation. “I want us to launch an exhaustive review of our security with all Europe’s partners, which includes Russia,” he added.

The French President refreshingly provides a clear view of Europe’s security and he does not hesitate to include Russia.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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