Russia takes Tokyo to task over defense alliance with Washington

By Polina Nikolskaya and Polina Devitt

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is concerned that Japan is allowing Washington to use its territory as a base for a U.S. military build-up in north Asia under the pretext of countering North Korea, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.

His remarks came at a joint press conference with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, after talks between the two men in Moscow, and prompted Kono to defend Japan’s stance toward North Korea and its ties with the United States.

Japan had wanted to focus on resolving a seven-decade old territorial dispute between the countries but Lavrov’s comments on North Korea cast a shadow over the meeting.

“We are expressing deep concern, with facts to back it up, that Japan along with South Korea is becoming a territory for the deployment of elements of the U.S. global missile defense system which is being rolled out in that region under the pretext of the North Korea threat,” Lavrov said.

“We have no problems directly with Japan, we do not see risks there. We see risks because of the proliferation of a global U.S. missile defense system on the territory of countries that neighbor Russia, including Japan.”

He said that in the past few weeks the United States had conducted military exercises in the region and adopted additional sanctions despite the absence of provocation from Pyongyang.

“We are alarmed that in the last two months when North Korea conducted no tests or rocket launches, it seemed that Washington was not happy about that, and tried to do things that would irritate and provoke Pyongyang,” Lavrov said.

Referring to U.S. officials, he said: “It’s as if they are hoping that they (the North Koreans) will lash out again, and then it would be possible to engage in military options.”

“As you know, the U.S. leadership has said many times that all options are on the table, including military options, and we note that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a meeting with President Trump in early November, said that he supports the American position 100 percent,” Lavrov said.

PEACE HOPES FADE

Japanese Foreign Minister Kono, after listening to Lavrov’s remarks, responded that Japan and its allies were not seeking regime change in North Korea. He said Tokyo had to act to defend itself after Pyongyang test-fired missiles which flew over Japan’s territory.

“This is unprecedented, the most important and most pressing threat not just to Japan and Russia but to the international community as a…

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