Photo/IllutrationRalph Cossa, president emeritus of the Honolulu-based think tank Pacific Forum CSIS, responds to an interview with The Asahi Shimbun. (Taketsugu Sato)

Japan will have to set its own timetable in deciding when and how to deal with North Korea, Ralph Cossa, a long-time national security and Asian affairs expert, said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

But at the same time, Cossa, president emeritus of the Honolulu-based think tank Pacific Forum CSIS, said it will be “very difficult for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to accomplish his objectives” in relation to North Korea.

Cossa has more than 40 years of experience dealing with national security issues and has been involved in the planning of U.S. policy toward Asia. He is also a founding member of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP).

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Question: After the historic June meeting in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, there have been differing signs coming out of North Korea. Some reports say Pyongyang has destroyed some of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile facilities, while there are other indications that it is continuing to secretly develop such weapons. What is your view of the situation?

Cossa: North Korea knows what they’re prepared to give up and what they’re not prepared to give up. It doesn’t surprise me at all that they’re still producing weapons and still producing plutonium or uranium. That’s why we need to put production facilities on the table.

Q: How do you view Japan’s position in dealing with issues related to North Korea?

A: The train is starting to move, and no one wants to be left on the station. I think Abe is in that same position, where he wants to remind people that Japan has a vote and is a player.

It’s one thing to sit down and be part of the dialogue and another thing to accomplish your objectives. I think that it’s going to be very difficult for Prime Minister Abe to accomplish his objectives.

It’ll also be difficult for the North Koreans to accomplish theirs because their objective is to get billions of dollars from Japan without giving anything in return.

Q: The Japanese government maintains its stance that it will not provide any economic assistance until the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea is resolved. What do you think about that?

A: I think that while the abductee issue is a convenient excuse in one respect for not having to spend any money on North Korea, it’s also an obstacle in another respect. Prime Minister Abe is going to need to be able to finesse that.

Q: When would be the best timing for the Japanese government to enter into dialogue with North Korea?

A: There’s probably never a good time. But there’s also probably never a bad time. Prime Minister Abe needs to be aware of what’s happening between the United States and North Korea and between the North and South (Korea) and not put himself in a position where he’s undermining either or the other.

North Korea would love the opportunity to have competition between China, Japan, South Korea and others for investment in North Korea.

It’s not so much a matter of timing. It’s a matter of coordination, making sure that we stay in lock step with both South Koreans and the United States as Japan moves forward on its own timetable.