Senior diplomats of Seoul and Tokyo on Tuesday held the first bilateral talks since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s December trip to a controversial war shrine that further strained the two countries’ ties.
The meeting took place here between Lee Sang-deok, new director-general for Northeast Asian affairs at South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, and Junichi Ihara, director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
The two diplomats were expected to focus on ways to resolve long-festering historical issues including wartime sex slavery.
With Seoul remaining skeptical in the wake of Abe’s shrine visit, the focal point appears to be whether the nationalist prime minister is willing to refrain from revisionist moves and take a step forward in historical issues.
The meeting came less than a week after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry displayed his intent to “meditate” between his country’s top regional allies until President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Seoul in April.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who visited Kerry in Washington early this month, on Tuesday proposed talks with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se, stressing the need to “bring forward” the bilateral relationship.
On Monday, Lee Byung-kee, Seoul’s ambassador to Tokyo, also held consultations with Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki.
During his two-day stay, Ihara also met with Cho Tae-yong, Seoul’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, as Tokyo’s chief nuclear negotiator.
Cho was expected to brief the envoy on recent progress in inter-Korean ties and stress trilateral cooperation with the U.S., given recent news reports that Ihara and two other Japanese diplomats held a covert meeting with three working-level North Korean officials in Hanoi from Jan. 26-27.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)