US, South Korea, Japan Coordinate Trilaterally on North Korea


On Wednesday, South Korea, the United States, and Japan agreed to increase pressure and sanctions on North Korea. The meeting came shortly after North Korea announced that it had tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), and that it had also miniaturized a nuclear device (both claims have come under scrutiny and remain externally unverified).

Recently, while in South Korea, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that the United States and South Korea would unite to increase sanctions on the North. Japan’s inclusion at Wednesday’s meeting highlights increasing trilateralism between Japan, South Korea, and the United States on the North Korean issue. While Japan and South Korea both enjoy bilateral alliances with the United States, relations between the two are otherwise cool, in part due to historical tensions and a territorial dispute over the sovereignty of the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands.

This trend toward trilateralism began late last year when the three countries signed a memorandum of understanding on sharing intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear program. In March 2015, the top U.S. defense official for Asia noted that the U.S. would pursue more trilateral defense cooperation.

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At Wednesday’s meeting, the three countries were represented by senior diplomats on nuclear and North Korea issues. The South Korean delegation was led by Hwang Joon-kook, the top nuclear envoy. The U.S. delegation was led by Sung Kim, the special representative for North Korea policy. Japan, meanwhile, was represented at the director-general level, by Junichi Ihara.

Hwang noted that in order to deal with North Korea, the three “agreed to put stronger pressure [on Pyongyang] and make active efforts for dialogue.” All three representatives agreed on the “seriousness in advancement in North Korea’s nuclear capability.”

Kim, the U.S. envoy, had similar comments, according to a Yonhap report. “We agreed on the importance of enhancing pressure and sanctions on North Korea even as we keep all diplomatic options on the table and open,” he said. “We agreed that we should be exploring all opportunities to increase pressure in terms of better, stronger implementation of existing sanctions but also looking at all other opportunities and avenues to increase pressure.”

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