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(2nd LD) US, Japan vow closer ties with S. Korea to foil NK provocations

All Headlines 02:19 June 22, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with comments by Clinton, Gates)
By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, June 21 (Yonhap) -- The United States and Japan announced Tuesday a common strategic goal to head off additional provocations by North Korea and persuade the communist nation to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.

After high-level talks among their defense chiefs and top diplomats, the two sides also said they will bolster a trilateral alliance with South Korea and expressed hope for an inter-Korean dialogue.

"On North Korea, we remain committed to deterring further provocative behaviors by North Korea, supporting a North-South dialogue and promoting the complete and peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a press conference on the results of the Security Consultative Committee, meeting for the first time since 2007.

The other participants are Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Japan's Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa.

Gates said, "We had an excellent discussion today, and we focused on the most critical challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region. Those include the denuclearization of North Korea, supporting continued progress in Afghanistan and maritime security."

The so-called two-plus-two meeting was apparently to show off a robust alliance between the two regional powers amid quake damages in Japan and heightened military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

A joint statement issued earlier provided details.

The strategic objective of the alliance is to "deter provocations by North Korea; achieve the complete, and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea, including its uranium enrichment program, through irreversible steps and, through the Six Party process, resolve issues related to proliferation, ballistic missiles, illicit activities, and humanitarian concerns, including the matter of (past) abductions by North Korea," the document read.

The two nations will also "strengthen trilateral security and defense cooperation with both Australia and the Republic of Korea," it added.

The statement also called for China's "responsible and constructive role" in regional stability and prosperity and urged the rising superpower to improve openness and transparency with respect to its military modernization.

China is the host of the six-way talks, launched in 2003 to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear programs in return for political and economic incentives. The negotiations have been stalled for more than two years.

Beijing is Pyongyang's last-remaining major ally and largest benefactor. North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, traveled to China last month and had summit talks with President Hu Jintao. The North then unveiled a plan to develop joint economic zones with China along their river border, raising worries in the international community that the deal would undercut U.N sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile tests.

On their bilateral alliance, the U.S. and Japan formally acknowledged that they won't be able to relocate a U.S. air base on Okinawa by the 2014 deadline.

The relocation of the Futenma base would be completed at the "earliest possible date" after 2014, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Clinton is scheduled to hold talks here with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on Friday.

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