Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Japan 'Could Become Key Seoul Ally in N.Korea Issues'

A senior South Korean government official recently remarked that if the U.S. and North Korea speed up too much in bilateral talks, Japan could play a role in "slamming on the brakes." He appeared to be suggesting that any bilateral negotiations bringing Washington and Pyongyang together after the North has launched a rocket next month could proceed too fast in the direction of normal diplomatic ties for the comfort of South Korea.

While is not against direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang, it feels a stop must be put to North Korea's brinkmanship tactics, i.e. to ratcheting up tensions to speak to the U.S. direct and make diplomatic gains. And it is here, the official suggested, that Seoul-Tokyo cooperation comes in. "Japan was once considered a stumbling block to solving North Korean issues," another South Korean official said. "But now has the most important role."

This convergence of interests means Seoul is focusing more than ever on seeking cooperation with Tokyo. The new South Korean nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac visited Japan as his first stopover after he assumed the post on Mar. 15.

The government official added Seoul-Tokyo cooperation is important because "the U.S. has no choice but to listen first to its allies, Japan in particular, no matter how important it is to seek a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue."

Seoul also expects Tokyo to play a role in any discussion at the UN Security Council of sanctions against the North in the aftermath of the rocket launch. "As a member of the Security Council, Japan has many roles to play than South Korea," he said.

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