- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2013

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts this weekend to coordinate policies on North Korea, as Pyongyang appears to have stepped back from its recent provocations and bellicose rhetoric in favor of a more conciliatory stance.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera is set to meet with Mr. Hagel and their South Korea’s Kwan-jin on Saturday at the Shangri-La annual regional security forum in Singapore, Kyodo independent Japanese news agency reported Friday.

The meeting comes a week after North Korea appeared to bow to Chinese pressure, saying it was open to rejoining six-party international talks aimed at ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang walked out of the talks in 2008 and earlier this year passed a national law committing the country to pursue nuclear weapons as one of two key national goals alongside economic development.

The United States and its allies are expected to reaffirm the three countries’ position that North Korea must take concrete steps toward denuclearization before the talks can resume. The three nations will likely pledge to step up cooperation with China and Russia — who along with North Korea are the other three parties to the six-way talks.

Kyodo news agency says North Korea may seek to undermine the three allies’ unity by promoting bilateral talks with Japan on the so-called “abduction issue” — exploiting Tokyo’s desire to win the return of about a dozen Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North Korean regime.

The Liberal Democratic Party of recently minted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces an election in the upper house of the Japanese Diet this summer, and knows it could boost its support by making progress on the issue

Earlier this month, the agency reports, Pyongyang surprised Seoul and Washington by inviting Isao Iijima, an adviser to Mr. Abe, for talks with North Korea’s No. 2 leader Kim Yong-nam.