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Japan, U.S. to urge China "to play bigger role" in halting N. Korea

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Secretary of
State Rex Tillerson agreed Monday to urge China to "play a bigger
role" in halting North Korea's nuclear and missile development
programs as they met to discuss pressing global issues.

In the talks, Kishida said he conveyed Japan's support for the
United States' resolve to fulfill its responsibility to prevent the
use and spread of chemical weapons, after Washington launched
military strikes against Syria in response to the country's alleged
use of such weapons.

The two met in Viareggio on the sidelines of the two-day Group
of Seven foreign ministers' meeting from Monday in Lucca, also in
central Italy. Their meeting came after telephone talks between Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday.

The leaders, speaking shortly after a summit between Trump and
Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida, agreed on the importance of
close coordination over North Korea and the role of China,
Pyongyang's main economic and diplomatic benefactor.

Kishida said Tillerson thanked Japan for expressing clear
support for the U.S. military action, which Tillerson said was aimed
at preventing repeated use of chemical weapons and saving people's
lives.

They shared the view that efforts to realize a cease-fire and
make progress on the political process in Syria, with the involvement
of Russia, as well as the fight against Islamic State militants are
important, said a Japanese official who was at the talks.

Kishida added that improving the humanitarian situation in the
Middle Eastern country, such as providing support for refugees, is
also crucial, the official said.

Japan hopes the United States' strong response on Syria will put
pressure on North Korea, which is showing signs of preparing for its
sixth nuclear test and more test-firings of ballistic missiles.

"We agreed that the role of China is extremely important. Japan
and the United States will jointly call on China to play a bigger
role," Kishida told reporters, adding that coordination between
Japan, South Korea and the United States is also crucial in
addressing North Korean threats.

In relation to South Korea, Kishida explained to Tillerson that
Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine, who recently
returned to his post after being recalled due to a row over Korean
women who were forced to work in the Japanese military's wartime
brothels, will continue to urge South Korea to uphold the 2015 deal
to "finally and irreversibly" resolve the so-called comfort women
issue.

The issue has long cast a shadow over Japan-South Korea ties
even though the countries say they need to strengthen defense ties to
deal with North Korea.

Tillerson said the U.S. commitment to defend its allies,
including Japan and South Korea, remains unwavering, according to the
official.

Kishida and Tillerson met for their third face-to-face talks
since the top U.S. diplomat assumed his post in February.

Tillerson also said the visit by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence
to Japan on April 18 for the launch of a bilateral economic dialogue
will provide a good opportunity to strengthen the Japan-U.S.
alliance, according to Kishida.

Kishida, for his part, said he wants to proactively contribute
to the discussions, which are set to focus on trade relations after
the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade
deal.

They also exchanged views on Russia, with Tillerson telling
Kishida of his plans to visit Moscow after attending the G-7 meeting,
according to the official.

Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime,
has condemned the U.S. attack as a violation of international law,
adding tension to already strained U.S.-Russia ties.

Kishida said he hopes Tillerson's visit to Russia would be
meaningful, and added Abe is also set to visit Russia for talks with
Russian President Vladimir Putin on bilateral and global issues, the
official said.

Also on Monday, Kishida and Federica Mogherini, high
representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security
policy, shared the view that the recent U.S. military action in Syria
will lead to a change in behavior by the Assad administration and
open a political process to stabilize the war-torn country, the
Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

Meeting on the fringes of the G-7 event, they also agreed on the
importance of continuing dialogue with Russia, especially at this
difficult time, as it has influence on the Assad government, the
ministry said.

On the economic front, Kishida and Mogherini agreed to work
toward a broad agreement on a proposed Japan-EU free trade deal, it
said.

In another meeting, Kishida and Italian Foreign Minister
Angelino Alfano reaffirmed bilateral cooperation in the security
field following their leaders' agreement last month to start
negotiations on the transfer of defense equipment and technology,
according to the Foreign Ministry. (April 10)