“The Japanese people should be concerned about slight differences of priorities between the United States and Japan,” said Mieko Nakabayashi, a professor in U.S.-Japan relations at Waseda University in Tokyo.
Japan, she said, was “watching very carefully” to see whether Trump would pursue the same objective of Kim giving up his nuclear program and weapons, or whether he might be attracted to a more flexible deal based on U.S. domestic political considerations. While Kim signed a declaration Friday agreeing to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, the details and timeline remain unclear.
Abe has been one of the most vocal supporters of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea — a stance that strengthened last year when two of the regime’s test missiles passed over northern Japan — but he has had to scramble to respond to recent developments.
It is hard to shake the perception that Japan, a close U.S. ally that hosts 54,000 American military personnel, has been left on the sidelines since Kim started a conspicuous effort to repair relations with South Korea and the U.S.
After traveling to China to meet with President Xi Jinping late last month, Kim held historic talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday. The Moon meeting was expected to lay the groundwork for the Trump summit.
The diplomatic efforts seem a far cry from the rhetorical barrages of 2017, when Trump warned North Korea it faced unprecedented “fire and fury” and total destruction if it threatened the U.S. or its allies.
American fears were raised when North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile which Kim claimed was capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
In his New Year’s Day address, Kim claimed that “a nuclear button is always on my desk” and the “entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons.” However, analysts say that based on the current evidence it’s hard to prove or debunk North Korea’s claim that it could hit targets such as New York or Washington.
Japan, however, has long been within range of North Korean weapons. The Nodong ballistic missile, also known as Rodong, has a maximum range of about 800 miles and could reach Japan in about 10 minutes, according to Narushige Michishita, a professor at Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
“Japan has been facing the threat for some time … although the nuclear detonation capability of North Korea has improved,” Michishita said. “What has changed in the past couple of years is that they have increased their ability to attack or target the United States.”