Seoul-Tokyo discord a ‘distraction:’ U.S. official

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Seoul-Tokyo discord a ‘distraction:’ U.S. official

WASHINGTON - Tensions between American allies Japan and South Korea are a distraction in dealing with common threats like North Korea’s nuclear weapons, a top U.S. diplomat said Tuesday.

Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was speaking ahead of a trilateral meeting on Thursday in Washington with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

Tokyo and Seoul both host tens of thousands of American troops, but the Asian nations have a bitter rivalry over Japan’s colonial and wartime past.

Blinken said the United States has a strategic stake in the Japan-South Korea relationship and an incentive to work with them to work through their tensions.

“If the relationship is not everything that it could or should be and indeed there are tensions in the relationship, that means that it becomes a distraction to our common agenda,” Blinken said, “including dealing with common challenges or threats such as those posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons.”

But Blinken said the relationship appears to be on a “positive trajectory” after senior Japanese and South Korean defense and foreign ministry officials held a rare joint meeting in Seoul on Tuesday.

Blinken was speaking at a town hall meeting at the State Department on U.S.-Japan relations. He will meet Thursday with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki and Republic of Korea Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong.

Despite the uptick in high-level diplomatic contacts between Tokyo and Seoul, they remain at loggerheads. South Korea wants contrition from Japan over the tens of thousands of “comfort women” sent to front-line Japanese military brothels during World War II.

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