AFP: The United States and Japan put on a united front Monday after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s death but the allies showed differences elsewhere with the Asian power refusing to stop oil imports from Iran.
By Shaun Tandon
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States and Japan put on a united front Monday after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s death but the allies showed differences elsewhere with the Asian power refusing to stop oil imports from Iran.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba had just arrived on a previously scheduled visit to the United States when North Korea announced that Kim had died, sending shockwaves through policy circles in Washington and Asia.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meeting with Gemba, said that the United States would coordinate closely with its allies Japan and South Korea amid the large question marks in its impoverished and nuclear-armed neighbor.
“We both share a common interest in a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea as well as ensuring regional peace and stability,” Clinton told a joint press availability with Gemba.
“We reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea and remain deeply concerned about their well-being,” she said.
Gemba agreed with the US stance and urged renewed efforts over a top concern for Japan — the fate of its citizens who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s to train the regime’s spies.
“We share the recognition that it is important to make sure that the latest events would not negatively affect the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” Gemba said.
Despite the show of unity on North Korea, the two sides differed on Iran. The United States is drumming up pressure around the world against the Islamic regime over accusations it is developing nuclear weapons.
Gemba pointed to Japanese sanctions on Iranian institutions but said: “I conveyed my view that there is a danger of causing damage to the entire global economy if the imports of Iranian crude oil stop.”
Japan has traditionally maintained cordial relations with Iran, although in recent years it has pared down its energy investments in the Islamic republic due to the concerns over its nuclear program.
But Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, has virtually no fossil fuel resources on its own. In October, 7.7 percent of its crude oil came from Iran, according to Japan’s Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Clinton spoke to Gemba “at some length” about “our concern about any country’s dependence on foreign oil.”
Nuland voiced understanding for Japan’s position, saying that any measures needed to be coordinated “to ensure that it is Iran that feels the tightening and that we don’t do damage to our allies and partners.”
“We share the objective of increasing the economic pressure on the Iranian regime to change course,” Nuland said.
The US Congress is considering legislation targeting Iran’s central bank — the nexus for receiving payment for oil exports — despite White House concerns that Iran could benefit if oil prices shoot up.
In another point of divergence, Clinton pressed Japan on child abductions, urging it to sign the 1980 Hague treaty that requires countries to return wrongfully held children to the countries where they usually live.
Japanese courts virtually never award custody to foreign parents, leading to more than 120 cases in which Americans — usually fathers — are struggling to obtain any access to half-Japanese children taken away by estranged partners.
Mindful of international criticism, Japan has agreed in principle to sign the Hague treaty. But the move would only apply to future cases.