Trilateral talks with Tokyo and Seoul were ‘constructive’ despite presser no-show, says U.S.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Wednesday that the United States has reaffirmed with Japan and South Korea their cooperation in dealing with North Korea and other issues, but that the absence of her two counterparts in a post-meeting news conference underscored the fraught relations between the two Asian allies.

Noting that there are “some bilateral differences” between Japan and South Korea that are continuing to be resolved, Sherman said in what was supposed to be a three-way news conference, “One of those differences, which is unrelated to today’s meeting, has led to the change in format for today’s press availability.”

But she added that the meeting was “very constructive,” which “demonstrates exactly why the trilateral format with the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea is so important and powerful,” referring to South Korea by its formal name.

The State Department had been planning a joint news conference with Sherman, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori and South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun following their trilateral meeting, which lasted for more than three hours.

The latest development came after months of efforts by the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden to strengthen cooperation between Japan and South Korea in the face of North Korean nuclear threats and China’s rise.

Relations between Japan and South Korea have remained frosty in recent years due to disputes stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

According to a press release issued by the department, the three officials reaffirmed that trilateral cooperation “is essential to tackling the most pressing challenges” in the region and across the globe, while sharing a commitment to maintaining a rules-based international order amid China’s growing assertiveness.

Sherman also highlighted the close trilateral coordination on North Korea’s denuclearization and their intent to address the threat posed by the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, according to the press release.

The deputy secretary of state said the United States will continue discussions to explore the best way forward to ensure Pyongyang’s denuclearization, with South Korea proposing the declaration of a formal end to the Korean War in an effort to revive dialogue with North Korea.

“On (the issue of) end of war … we are having good consultations amongst us and with other allies and partners and we will continue to do so,” Sherman said.

The United States and North Korea remain technically in a state of war as the 1950-53 Korean War — in which U.S.-led U.N. forces fought alongside the South against the North, which was backed by China and the Soviet Union — ended in a cease-fire rather than a peace treaty.

North Korea has called for the United States to abandon its “hostile policies.” A security guarantee is seen as a prerequisite for North Korea to give up its nuclear arms.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September that he will seek to declare a formal end to the Korean War, naming China as a potential partner along with the two Koreas and the United States.

But diplomatic sources have previously said that Tokyo is reluctant to support the idea, believing it would only create a conciliatory mood without clear prospects that Pyongyang would abandon its nuclear weapons or resolve the issue of its past abductions of Japanese nationals.

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