Japan and US Talk North Korea as Tensions Mount

July 31, 2017 Updated: July 31, 2017

North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has the leaders of Japan and the United States to discuss options to deal with the rogue state.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made it his mission to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, told Japanese media that he and President Donald Trump “had a rather in depth exchange of opinions.”

The White House said that during the Sunday, July 30, conversation  “President Trump reaffirmed our ironclad commitment to defend Japan and the Republic of Korea from any attack, using the full range of United States capabilities.”

“I highly appreciate President Trump’s commitment to take all necessary steps to protect allies,” Abe told reporters.

“We will make every possible effort to protect our citizens’ safety against the threat from North Korea,” he said.

Abe said the two leaders agreed completely on the need for further action, though Japanese officials said the pair did not discuss military action or any “red line” during their 50-minute conversations.

Abe and Trump spoke after Pyongyang launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 28 that experts said is capable of reaching much of the United States mainland. It landed in the sea off the coast of Japan, the second such test this month.

Japan and South Korea are the two key U.S. allies in the region, and both have long been in range of North Korea’s Nodong medium-range ballistic missiles.

The United States has supported Japan with military hardware, including the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, which Japan reportedly favors over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that is partially deployed in South Korea.

Both systems are geared toward slower medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles, rather than faster intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) like those North Korea is now testing.

Rising tensions and the threat from North Korea come as Abe struggles with one of his defining goals as Japanese leader: revising Article 9 of the post World War II constitution, which outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes.

Article 9 also states that Japan will not maintain armed forces with the potential for war.

In practice, however, Japan keeps its potent Japan Self Defense Forces well stocked. Japan has a deal to purchase around 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from Lockheed Martin.

But Abe’s flagging popularity in Japan could make it impossible to maintain the support he needs to amend the constitution. His term ends in September 2018 and some polls have pegged his approval rating at 30 percent.

The Japanese leader campaigned on a conservative agenda not unlike Trump’s: to revive traditional values and strengthen the Japanese military capability, though in Japan’s case that meant loosening limits on the military through amending the constitution.

Meanwhile, the United States has continued to apply pressure to North Korea, with  U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, issuing a statement that the United States will not attempt to get another U.N. Security Council session on the topic.

“There is no point in having an emergency session if it produces nothing of consequence,” Haley said in a statement.

“In fact, it is worse than nothing, because it sends the message to the North Korean dictator that the international community is unwilling to seriously challenge him.

“The time for talk is over,” said Haley, noting that North Korea has already violated U.N. sanctions with impunity.

Haley, echoing President Trump, pointed to China as a key decider in what could happen with North Korea.

The Chinese regime, most specifically the faction of the Chinese Communist Party aligned with former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, is North Korea’s most critical ally. China and Russia have both called for the United States to back down talk off military action with North Korea and they have called for the dismantling of the THAAD system in South Korea. South Korea halted the full installation of that system after the Chinese regime applied intense pressure.

The United States has been conducting tests of that system and conducting joint military operations with allies in the region, including flying supersonic bombers and fighter jets over the Korea Peninsula on Sunday.

Trump has tweeted his frustration with China’s role in resolving the North Korean crisis repeatedly, most recently on Saturday when he wrote: “I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet … they do nothing for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”

Trump had previously dialed back his criticism of China’s mercantilist trade practices after the election in an apparent bid to win Beijing’s help dealing with the Kim Jong Un regime.