WASHINGTON (Yonhap) ― The United States urged Japan on Tuesday to resolve the issue of the country’s sexual enslavement of women during World War II as it confirmed a report that White House and State Department officials met recently with two Korean victims of the atrocity.
Yonhap News Agency reported Monday that officials of the White House and the State Department held unannounced meetings last week with two elderly South Korean victims of the sexual slavery ― Lee Ock-sun, 87, and Kang Il-chul, 86.
The meetings were seen in part as pressure on Tokyo to resolve the issue, which has become the biggest thorn in badly frayed relations between Seoul and Tokyo, the two key U.S. allies that Washington hopes to forge three-way security cooperation.
On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed that officials of her department met with the two victims on July
31 and discussed their experiences. She did not identify the officials nor the victims by name.
She emphasized it was not the first time that department officials have held such a meeting.
“As we’ve stated many times, it is deplorable and clearly a grave human rights violation of enormous proportions that the Japanese military was involved in the trafficking of women for sexual purposes in the 1930s and 1940s,” she said at a regular press briefing. “We encourage Japan to continue to address this issue in a manner that promotes healing and facilitates better relations with neighboring states.”
She added that she does not rule out such meetings in the future.
The White House also confirmed there was a meeting with the victims.
“Two members of the House of Sharing met officials from the White House Office of Public Engagement on July 31 and discussed their experiences,” Patrick Ventrell, an NSC spokesperson, said in response to Yonhap’s request for comment. The House of Sharing is the name of the victims group.
“Our policy remains unchanged. As we have stated many times, the trafficking of women for sexual purposes in the 1930s and 40s was deplorable and a grave violation of human rights,” he said, adding that the U.S. welcomes ongoing talks between Seoul and Tokyo on this and other sensitive historical issues.
Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea and China, were forced to work at front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.
South Korea has urged Japan to resolve the grievances of the victims, saying the issue is becoming increasingly urgent as most victims are well over 80 and may die before they receive compensation or an apology from Japan.
But Japan has claimed that all issues related to its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were settled through a 1965 treaty that normalized their bilateral ties.