Kerry flying to Seoul to discuss North, Japan ties

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Kerry flying to Seoul to discuss North, Japan ties

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to arrive in Seoul for a two-day visit Thursday and is expected to focus on concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program and tension in the region between Washington’s key allies, Seoul and Tokyo.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that Kerry will meet with his Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, and President Park Geun-hye to discuss the North Korean nuclear problem, the situation in Northeast Asia and the advancement of the two countries’ alliance.

Ahead of the visit, Korean broadcaster YTN and Associated Press Television News reported that former U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Donald Greg arrived in Pyongyang via Beijing yesterday. He is chairman emeritus of The Korea Society, and the reason for his visit was not revealed.

There is speculation that his visit is related to negotiating a release of Korean-American Kenneth Bae.

Gregg served as ambassador to Seoul from 1989-93 and served in the CIA for over three decades.

On Sunday, the U.S. State Department said Kerry will make a six-day trip to Asia including Seoul, Beijing, Jakarta and Abu Dhabi “to meet with senior government officials and address a range of bilateral, regional and global issues.”

The visit is seen as a furthering of President Barack Obama’s so-called pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.

Kerry is also expected to focus on the East Sea air defense zone Beijing unilaterally declared last year, which covers territory also claimed by Korea and Japan.

Last week in Washington, Kerry met with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, so he is not expected to visit Tokyo this time.

During the Friday meeting between Kerry and Kishida, Washington expressed its disappointment again over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class-A war criminals. Kerry and Kishida reportedly spent a considerable time speaking about improving Seoul-Tokyo relations, which are badly frayed due to ongoing historical and territorial disputes. Kerry was reported to have told Tokyo to better its relations with Seoul.

The two countries emphasized that cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea is important in order to deal with the North Korea issue. Kishida said Tokyo will make “tenacious efforts” to improve relations with Korea.

Japan has previously extended a state visit invitation to President Barack Obama, and Tokyo is expected to be one of his stops in Asia in April. But Korean officials have pushed for Obama to also visit Seoul.

Whether Korea will be included in Obama’s April trip is also expected to be discussed during Kerry’s Seoul visit. Analysts have said that Obama visiting Japan and not Korea could send the wrong kind of message to the international community, still smarting from Abe’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine visit in December.

Foreign Minister Yun visited Washington in January and conveyed to Kerry the need for Japan to acknowledge and apologize for its historical misdeeds.

This will be Kerry’s fifth talks with the Korean foreign minister. He last visited Seoul in April 2013 while the two countries celebrated the 60th anniversary of their alliance.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Kerry will visit Beijing Friday and Saturday. He will meet with Foreign Minister Wu Dawei and other leaders. It remains to be seen if there will be discussions on the revival of the six-party talks among the United States, Japan, China, Russia and the Koreas, which have been stalled since late 2008.

Kerry’s visit also comes as Pyongyang rescinded an invitation for a visit by U.S. special envoy Robert King to negotiate a release of Korean-American tour operator Bae.

She also said that Reverend Jesse Jackson, a civil rights activists and former U.S. presidential candidate, has offered to travel to Pyongyang to help secure Bae’s release.

Overlapping with Kerry’s visit, former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who issued the apology to victims of Japan’s wartime aggressions in 1995, is slated to come to Korea for a three-day visit starting today upon the invitation of the minor opposition Justice Party.

Murayama requested to meet President Park Geun-hye but scheduling conflicts prevented it, the Justice Party said yesterday at a briefing.


BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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