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Lee to hold summit with Japan's prime minister

SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was to hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Wednesday to talk mainly about bilateral relations, North Korea and a possible free trade agreement between the two neighbors.

Noda arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for a two-day trip, his first to South Korea since taking office last month. Wednesday's summit will be the second face-to-face meeting between Lee and Noda as they met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month.

Officials said that Noda first offered to visit Seoul, a move seen as an attempt by Tokyo to fix relations with Seoul that were strained when Tokyo raised a series of territorial claims over South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo earlier this year.

In a friendly gesture, Noda brought with him five volumes of centuries-old, royal Korean books seized during its 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea, the first batch of a total of 1,205 volumes that Japan has pledged to return to Seoul to back up last year's apology by former Prime Minister Naoto Kan for the colonial rule.

Noda plans to return the books during the summit.

The summit will be watched for signs of whether there will be any change in Japan's position on South Korea's demand that Tokyo compensate the aging Korean women known euphemistically as "comfort women," who were forced into sexual slavery to serve Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Seoul has been calling for official bilateral negotiations on the compensation issue since the country's Constitutional Court ruled in August that it is unconstitutional for the Seoul government to make no specific effort to settle the issue with Tokyo.

Despite repeated demands from Seoul, Japan has been sticking to its previous position that all issues regarding the colonial rule were settled in a 1965 package compensation deal that the two countries reached while normalizing diplomatic relations.

Historians say that up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude at front-line Japanese brothels during World War II. The issue is becoming increasingly urgent as most victims are elderly and fear they may die before they receive compensation or an apology from Japan.

Other possible topics for the summit include Japan's long-running request that the two sides reopen negotiations on a free trade agreement. The negotiations have been stalled due in part to South Korea's large trade deficit with Japan and disagreement over how much Japan should open up its agricultural sector.

On North Korea, the two countries have been working closely together. The leaders are expected to reaffirm their joint stance that the communist nation should take concrete steps in rolling back its nuclear programs before restarting six-nation talks on the nuclear standoff.