The United States and Japan are strong allies firmly committed to peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said yesterday in Tokyo.
In a media availability after talks with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, Mattis said he and his Japanese counterpart discussed the opportunities to increase the alliance’s capability, deepen cooperation and enhance regional security.
“We’re in the midst of very unprecedented negotiations right now with North Korea,” Mattis said. “But in this dynamic time, the long-standing alliance between Japan and the United States stands firm.”
He described the U.S.-Japan alliance as a “cornerstone of Indo-Pacific stability,” saying the U.S. commitment to the alliance “remains ironclad with a long-term ally.”
Mattis noted the trip was his seventh visit as secretary of defense to the Indo-Pacific region. It was his fifth meeting in recent times with Onodera, he said.
“These visits represent just how strongly we prioritize this relationship between our two militaries,” he said. “I think it’s fitting for trusted allies as America continues to look west and to strengthen long-standing alliances as specified in President [Donald J.] Trump’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.”
Remaining Vigilant on North Korea
Mattis thanked Japan for its commitment to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and he underscored the role of the diplomats in the process.
“Our objective remains the complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Mattis said. “Especially now, we remain vigilant, and I thank Japan for its ceaseless efforts to promote stability and security.”
The diplomats, Mattis said, are “firmly in the lead,” in alignment with the agreement signed this month by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“As our diplomats work to bring this agreement to fruition, the U.S. military, in close coordination with our allies and partners, continues its clear-eyed approach, supporting international sanctions and multiple unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Mattis said.
The secretary said a pause in U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises is meant to “create space for our diplomats to negotiate strongly, and increasing the prospects for a peaceful solution on the peninsula.” The United States maintains a strong, collaborative defense stance, he said, “to ensure our diplomats continue to negotiate from a position of unquestioned strength.”
Further, Mattis said the United States recognizes the importance of the Japanese abductee issue. He noted Trump raised the issue at the U.S.-North Korean summit in Singapore. He described it as a “humanitarian issue always present in our deliberations,” referencing the unresolved issue in which North Korean agents abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.
Gratitude for Rescue of U.S. Pilot
Mattis thanked Japan for its rescue of a U.S. Air Force pilot who crashed in the waters south of Okinawa on June 11.
“Thank you for saving the life of our pilot who went down at sea,” Mattis said. “He’s back home with his family, recovering from his injuries.”
The pilot of the Air Force F-15C Eagle assigned to the 18th Wing’s 44th Fighter Squadron successfully ejected and was recovered by Japan Air Self-Defense Force‘s Naha Rescue Squadron, according to U.S. Forces Japan. The pilot was in serious condition, a statement said.
Japan was Mattis’ last stop before returning to the United States. He also visited Alaska, China and South Korea during the tour.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)