Dueling with the right in Japan and the US

Perhaps as a sign that the six-party talk’s latest agreement on North Korea is getting dangerously close to proceeding smoothly, there are signs that the positions of two actors are changing, one for the better, one for the worse.

For the better, Sasae Kenichiro, Japan’s negotiator in the six-party talks, suggested in a meeting with Dennis Wilder, the NSC’s senior Asia assistant, that it is “essential” to execute a verifible denuclearization for North Korea to be removed from the terror list, a position that is strikingly close to the US position. Mr. Sasae apparently appended a remark about the abductions issue, but it seems that the overall thrust of the talks — according to Asahi — was actually the nuclear issue, suggesting that Japan might be ready for a subtle shift in its position in the talks.

At the same time, however, the New York Times reports that the American right, which has been remarkably quiet about the latest progress in negotiations with North Korea (giving Chris Hill and Condoleeza Rice space to bargain with Pyongyang), has turned on Secretary Rice, with Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen meeting with Ms. Rice to question the administration’s North Korea policy. Perhaps Republican discontent is more a sign of fears that the deal might work: when it was unclear whether Mr. Hill’s bargaining would bear fruit, conservatives could hold off from sniping at the negotiations out of confidence that the talks would fall apart.

Now, though, it may be too late for conservatives to do anything to stop it — unless there is some truth to the lingering rumor that Israel destroyed a North Korea-provided Syrian nuclear facility last month.

In any case, it seems that the tacit alliance between American and Japanese conservatives, cemented during the tenures of Messrs. Koizumi and Abe, remains sound, even as US-Japan relations experience a bit of turmoil.

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