|Park Geun-hye, Shinzo Abe (Yonhap)|
South Korea, the U.S. and Japan will hold a three-way summit to discuss the North Korean nuclear conundrum on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Netherlands, next week, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Friday.
The summit will mark the first time for South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to sit down for official talks. Park had previously rejected other offers amid escalating historical and territorial feuds.
“Seoul has agreed to join the three-party summit hosted by the U.S. (The leaders) will exchange their views on North Korea’s nuclear program and non-nuclear proliferation,” said the ministry in a statement.
The statement also said that Seoul and Tokyo have been in consultation over holding a senior-level meeting over the thorny issue of Korean women who were forced by Japan to serve at military brothels during World War II.
But a senior ministry official said that the three-way meeting would not touch on bilateral historical issues. “That (history) is not the (main) subject of the trilateral talks,” the official told reporters, declining to be named.
Asked why Seoul agreed to attend the meeting, the official said, “It has been our consistent position that South Korea, the U.S. and Japan should cooperate closely to address the North Korean nuclear standoff.”
Observers say that Washington might have played a central role in persuading Park to join the summit to help improve the frayed ties between its allies. Ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia next month, Washington has pressured Seoul to mend fences with Tokyo.
The planned summit has raised the prospect of a thaw in the relations between Seoul and Tokyo, which have seriously deteriorated in recent months amid Japan’s failure to fully repent for its wartime misdeeds and stepped-up claim to Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo.
But many analysts argue that the summit may not help substantially enhance the bilateral relationship as Japan still remains reluctant to come forward to address the issue of wartime sex slaves, better known as comfort women, and may continue to anger Korea with its sovereignty claim to Dokdo.
At the top of the agenda for the tripartite meeting will be North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats given that the forum will focus on the peaceful use of nuclear technology and combating nuclear proliferation.
Attention is being drawn to whether the three leaders will send a joint message to Pyongyang, which still adheres to nuclear adventurism as a crucial guarantor of its regime’s survival.
The agenda is also expected to include the strengthening of triangular security cooperation. Amid China’s growing assertiveness, Washington has sought to deepen the cooperation, but historical animosities between Seoul and Tokyo have impeded the efforts.
The three leaders are also likely to discuss the escalating Crimean standoff. Observers say that Obama might seek to work out a joint stance to oppose Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, where Moscow stations its strategic Black Sea Fleet.
Seoul has been in an increasingly difficult position amid the escalating standoff, which could undermine its efforts to deepen strategic relations with Russia. Earlier this week, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said it did not recognize Russia’s move to absorb Crimea, joining the international condemnation of Russia’s de facto annexation of the Ukrainian region.
With regard to the summit with the nationalist Premier Abe, Park had maintained that Tokyo should show “sincerity” in its efforts to resolve bilateral historical issues including Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women.
But after Abe said that his government would uphold past apologies for Japan’s wartime misdeeds, Seoul’s stance on the summit became somewhat flexible, observers said.
The last summit between South Korea and Japan was held in 2012, when former President Lee Myung-bak and then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda got together for the trilateral summit with China.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com