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Japan and South Korea agree on leaders' meeting

Japan and South Korea agree on leaders' meeting

The leaders of Japan and South Korea agreed Thursday to hold a meeting for the first time in nearly a year to smooth over tense relations, and Japan's new prime minister said he wants the talks to happen as soon as possible.
Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun arranged the plan during a 20-minute telephone call early Thursday, officials said.
"I invited Mr. Roh to hold top level talks at the earliest possible time," Abe later told reporters. "I said I wished to build a relationship based on trust that enables us to stay in close contact."
Roh responded enthusiastically, according to Abe's spokesman Hiroshige Seko. Roh's office said in a statement that he stressed the importance of "mutual trust and respect" between the two countries. The statement said the two could also discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Roh had refused since last year to meet with former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to protest his visits to a Tokyo war shrine that critics consider a glorification of militarism. The two met the last time in November 2005.
Earlier Thursday, Japanese chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki denied that Roh and Abe discussed Yasukuni. Abe is a firm believer in visits to the shrine, but unlike his predecessor, he has not pledged to make a pilgrimage as prime minister. He reportedly went there last in April.
It was not clear whether the two envisioned a full-blown summit or a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a regional meeting. Shiozaki said the two could meet before Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in mid-November in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Kyodo News agency said a meeting on the sidelines of APEC was also possible.
Such a meeting would be a breakthrough for the two neighbors, who still struggle to overcome bitter memories in South Korea over Japan's harsh 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni, which honors executed war criminals among Japan's 2.5 million war dead, have inflamed sentiment in South Korea that Tokyo does not feel genuine regret over its imperialist past.
Japan and South Korea are also sparring over ownership of a pair of islets in the waters between them. The islands are held by South Korea, but Japan lays claim to them.
The agreement on a meeting with South Korea comes amid Tokyo's efforts to also arrange a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao. China was also boycotting Koizumi, and the two held their last meeting in April 2005 at a regional meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.
In a separate territorial dispute, a Japanese city assembly on Thursday urged a South Korean city to give up its territorial claims over Tsushima, an island with a population of 40,000 that lies midway between the two countries.
The 26-member Tsushima city assembly adopted a nonbinding resolution demanding that South Korea's Masan city abolish an ordinance it passed last year highlighting Korean claims to the Japan-controlled island, city official Mika Abiru said.


Updated : 2021-10-19 11:49 GMT+08:00