Seoul agrees to 3-way summit

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Seoul agrees to 3-way summit

Korea said yesterday it agreed to a trilateral summit with the leaders of Japan and the U.S. on the sidelines of the nuclear summit in The Hague early next week.

It will be the first talks between the leaders of Korea and Japan in 22 months and may signal a thaw in the diplomatic impasse between the two countries over Japan’s attitude toward historical and territorial disputes.

A Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that the U.S.-led trilateral summit meeting will discuss issues of nuclear non-proliferation, including the North Korea nuclear issue. But he did not elaborate on the date or details of the talks.

The spokesman said that Japan and Korea are discussing whether to hold a senior-level foreign affairs officials meeting on the so-called comfort women issue.

President Park Geun-hye is scheduled to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, which runs from March 24 to 25, during her weeklong visit to the Netherlands and Germany.

This will mark the first official talks between Park and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who have been at the same functions four times since their inaugurations, including at an economic forum in Davos in January. On each occasion, Park refused to engage with Abe.

She completely rejected a bilateral summit with Abe, urging Japan to take “meaningful action” to acknowledge its wartime atrocities, including its forcing of Korean women into sexual slavery.

The talks next week follow pressure from Washington, which mediated to improve relations between Japan and Korea, according to government officials in Seoul, ahead of President Barack Obama’s Asia trip next month, which includes stops in both Tokyo and Seoul.

They also follow Abe’s statement last week that he would stand behind the 1993 Kono Statement, an apology made by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono for the Japanese military’s forcing of women into sexual slavery in military brothels during World War II.

Abe’s statement was unexpected after his cabinet earlier this month declared it would re-examine testimonies of former Korean women, which was criticized in Seoul as a move by Tokyo to disavow the Kono Statement and deny Japan’s historical misdeeds. It also earned the first positive remark about Abe by President Park since she came into office over a year ago.

On March 12, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki held talks with his Korean counterpart First Vice Minister Cho Tae-yong in Seoul, where both sides tackled improving bilateral ties without making much headway.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported yesterday ahead of an official announcement that a trilateral summit was decided upon by Park following the National Security Council meeting and that the talks will focus on strengthening cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue.

Park and Obama are also scheduled to hold separate bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the nuclear summit next week. Abe, who came into office December 2012, has yet to meet with Xi, who has also been frosty to Abe because of statements and actions about history and territory claimed by China.

The last summit between the leaders of Korea and Japan was held in May 2012, between President Lee Myung-bak and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

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


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