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Seoul, Tokyo clash on how North Korea should remove its missiles

  • Japan and South Korea's defense ministers appeared to disagree Saturday over the urgency in removing Pyongyang's short-range ballistic missiles.
  • They were speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual Singapore summit that draws security officials from across the globe.
Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (L) shakes hands with his South Korean counterpart Song Young-moo (R) as director-general and chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) John Chipman looks on during the second plenary session of the 17th Asian Security Summit of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2, 2018.
Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images
Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (L) shakes hands with his South Korean counterpart Song Young-moo (R) as director-general and chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) John Chipman looks on during the second plenary session of the 17th Asian Security Summit of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2, 2018.

Seoul and Tokyo hold nuanced but crucial differences regarding North Korea's potential weapons dismantlement, it emerged Saturday.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual Singapore summit that draws security officials from across the globe, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and South Korean Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo appeared to clash over the urgency in removing Pyongyang's short-range ballistic missiles.

Song placed low emphasis on their immediate removal, noting their threat "will dissipate over time" as the North forms relations with the international community.

Onodera, however, took a tougher stance. Short-range missiles are a big priority for the world's third-largest economy, he said, adding that they must be an essential and timely component in the elimination of all North Korean missiles.

Those diverging views indicate just how complex the dismantlement process could be if the rogue state agrees to relinquish weapons at leader Kim Jong Un's June 12 meeting with President Donald Trump. If the summit achieves success, it will be comparable to the 1989 Malta summit that brought an end to the Cold War, according to Song.

The South Korean official offered a broadly optimistic take on ongoing nuclear negotiations, stating that "just because we have been tricked by North Korea in the past doesn't guarantee that we will be tricked in the future." He also called on the world to trust North Korean ruler Kim. "If we continue to suspect his motives, then any moves towards goals will be hindered by those suspicions."

Onodera, in contrast, pointed out the North's history of lies and broken commitments, warning that the sanctions-riddled nation should not be rewarded solely for dialogue. Pressure must remain in place, he said.

And if Kim's administration really is serious about scrapping weapons, Onodera said that Tokyo is ready to provide resources for inspections and verification as well as ensuring safe disposal so weapons don't spread to other countries.