WASHINGTON –U.S. military presence in northeast Asia is crucial in forming a forceful alliance against nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, Japanese defense leaders said Thursday on a visit to the United States capital.

Members of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, the current ruling party, expressed doubts that a genuine diplomatic relationship could develop between North Korea, the United States, Japan and South Korea.

The U.S. has 38,000 troops in Japan—America’s largest overseas military contingent—and 24,000 troops in South Korea, according Department of Defense data.

Former Japanese Defense Minister Aki Nagashima warned Thursday that Japan must remain skeptical of North Korean overtures due to its violations of past multi-lateral agreements. There is “no evidence that this time is any different,” Nagashima said.

Nagashima stressed that only the United States can protect Japan due to its competitive military advantage as the world’s sole remaining superpower.

The presence of U.S. troops in South Korea is “very important to maintain balance in northeast Asia,”former Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told the Center for Strategic and International Studies audience.

But Nakatani said he did not think the United Nations—and by extension the U.S.—would have a rationale to stay on the Korean peninsula if a peace treaty were finally signed to formally replace the 1953 Korean War armistice. That view contradicts South Korea’s official statement from yesterday in which a spokesman for President Moon Jae-in told Reuters, “U.S. troops stationed in South Korea are an issue regarding the alliance between South Korea and the United States. It has nothing to do with signing peace treaties.”

Any treaty would require the U.S. and North Korea to end six decades of disengagement.

“For North Korea to achieve full denuclearization, there must be a good cooperative relationship,” with the U.S., Nakatani explained.

Nakatani also expressed hope that the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s would finally be resolved when President Trump meets with Kim Jong Un during an expected summit in the coming weeks.

PHOTO AT THE TOP: President Moon Jae-in of South Korea (right) and North Korea’s Chairman of the State Affairs Committee Kim Jong Un shake hands after announcing the Panmunjeom Declaration on April 27. Photo courtesy of The Republic of Korea.