U.S. lawmaker muses over Abe trip

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U.S. lawmaker muses over Abe trip

A senior American lawmaker said that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to mention in his upcoming trip to Washington the issue of Japan’s sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women during World War II.

Rep. Charles Rangel of New York told Korean correspondents in Washington on Monday, “I have every reason to believe that one way or the other, it’s going to be mentioned during this trip to the United States.”

Last week, Rangel traveled with a bipartisan group of American lawmakers, including House minority leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Democrat, to Seoul and Tokyo.

Rangel said that the Japanese military’s forceful recruitment of women into sexual slavery during World War II was not brought up during the delegation’s meeting with Prime Minister Abe.

However, he said that the “comfort women” issue - as the victims are commonly known - will be difficult to avoid in Abe’s weeklong visit to Washington, scheduled for later this month.

“If the question is raised, he’s going to answer,” he said, adding that the issue could not be “ignored.”

Rangel, a Korean War veteran, sympathizes with the plight of the comfort women and has previously stated that the Japanese government must apologize for its wartime crimes.

Japan’s lack of a sincere apology over the issue has been a main source of diplomatic friction between Seoul and Tokyo.

Abe is scheduled to make a speech at a joint session of the U.S. Congress at the end of the month, the first for a Japanese prime minister.

American and Korean observers say this could be an ideal venue for Abe to address historical issues, and U.S. lawmakers such as Rep. Mike Honda of California encouraged the prime minister to clearly apologize for its wartime transgressions.

However, Rangel said he would refrain from speculating what Abe would say to the Congress, adding that he expects to meet Abe at some point while the prime minister is in Washington.

In an interview Monday with Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said that Abe’s description of the comfort women as having been victims of “human trafficking” was a step in the right direction in recognizing history.

He told the Yomiuri that recognizing the past helped bolster joint efforts between Japan and the United States to prevent abuse against women and human trafficking and sent a “positive message.”

In a March 26 interview with The Washington Post, Abe referred to comfort women as people “who have been victimized by human trafficking and gone through immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description.”

At the time, Seoul expressed concerns that the term “human trafficking” appeared to be his way of avoiding Japan’s responsibility in its victims’ coercion into sexual slavery ? the proper terminology recognized by international community ? and instead passing on the blame to private brokers or recruiters.

Abe has consistently made remarks in the past claiming there was no evidence that the women were forced or coerced. Russel was in Tokyo on a four-day trip that concluded Tuesday to discuss bilateral, regional and global issues with Japanese officials.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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