Saturday 24 February 2018

Abe pledges to 'tackle' N Korea after re-election

Shinzo Abe: ‘Strong diplomacy' Image: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara
Shinzo Abe: ‘Strong diplomacy' Image: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

Danielle Demetriou Toyko

Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, vowed to tackle North Korea's nuclear threat with "strong diplomacy" yesterday after winning re-election.

Mr Abe pledged to have a "deep discussion" with Donald Trump, the US president, about how to deal with the regime, in a sign that the countries could toughen their stance together.

It separately emerged that the US Air Force was preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers on 24-hour standby for the first time in a quarter of a century.

If the move gets the go-ahead, B-52 bombers carrying nuclear weapons will permanently sit on a runway in Louisiana, ready to fly when given the command. Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, also refused to rule out supporting a pre-emptive strike by America yesterday, saying the option "must remain on the table".

The developments have emerged just days before Mr Trump visits Asia in a bid to boost diplomatic support for his hard line on the regime. Mr Trump called Mr Abe yesterday to congratulate him on his re-election and pledged to retain their "strong alliance".

He has warned of "fire and fury" against North Korea if the regime does not abandon its nuclear ambitions. The strategy has seen new economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations after a series of nuclear tests that implied the country's technology was improving.

Mr Abe, whose ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner won a comfortable majority on Sunday, discussed the North Korean crisis with reporters. "I will pursue decisive and strong diplomacy to tackle North Korea's missile, nuclear and abduction issues and put further pressure to get it to change its policy," he said.

The comments suggest Mr Abe is willing to increase pressure on Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, but they fall short of Mr Trump's willingness to consider military options.

In the US, there were further signs of escalating tensions with North Korea as it emerged B-52s could be put on a ready-to-fly footing at Barksdale Air Force Base for the first time since 1991.

General David Goldfein, the US Air Force chief of staff, said while the command had not yet been given, the military was getting prepared for the change.

"This is yet one more step in ensuring that we're prepared," he told the online publication 'Defence One'.

"I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we're prepared going forward.

"The world is a dangerous place and we've got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons.

"It's no longer a bipolar world where it's just us and the Soviet Union.

"We've got other players out there who have nuclear capability.

"It's never been more important to make sure that we get this mission right."

Despite his electoral successes, Mr Abe still faces the challenge of having to boost his popularity as a leader, with media exit polls showing that 51pc of Japanese do not trust him following a string of corruption scandals.

In addition to the North Korean situation, issues topping his post-election agenda will range from dealing with a rapidly shrinking and ageing population, to policies of 'Abenomics' in efforts to revitalise the world's third-largest economy.

His most pressing issue, however, remains his long-cherished but deeply divisive goal of reforming the pacifist constitution, in particular war-renouncing Article 9, with a view to redefining the exact role of the nation's self-defence forces.

"Mr Abe is trying to create a legacy," said Jesper Koll, head of WisdomTree Japan, an equities fund.

"His first legacy project was to get the economy out of deflation.

"The second legacy is to change the constitution," he added.

Irish Independent

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