The landmark meeting between White House officials and two Korean victims of Japan's wartime sexual enslavement was meaningful as it provided an importance chance for American officials to hear first-hand about what the victims went through, a U.S. lawmaker said.
"It was a very important meeting and it was a very emotional meeting," Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) said in a telephone interview with Yonhap News Agency. "A lot of good information was shared and I think it was important that both the State Department and the White House experienced first-hand the emotions, the words and the testimonies of the halmoni."
"Halmoni" is the Korean word for grandmother. Honda used the word to refer to the elderly victims.
Honda played a central role in setting up two meetings between victims and U.S. officials -- one with White House officials and the other with State Department officials. It was the first time that sexual slavery victims have visited the White House to talk about their experiences.
The U.S. officials' meetings with the victims -- Lee Ock-sun, 87, and Kang Il-chul, 86, -- drew keen attention because the move was seen as aimed at pressuring Japan to resolve the issue, the biggest thorn in badly frayed relations between Seoul and Tokyo.
Strains in Seoul-Tokyo ties have been a cause for concern for the U.S. as Washington tries to forge three-way security cooperation with the two Asian allies in part to keep a rising China in check.
Honda has long been at the forefront of efforts to get Japan to admit and apologize to victims of its sexual enslavement of Korean and other Asian women for its troops during World War II. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.
In 2007, Honda wrote House Resolution 121 and helped it pass through the House unanimously. The resolution urged Japan to formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility for the atrocity in a clear and unequivocal manner.
In January this year, Honda succeeded in having that resolution become law as he secured language in another bill, H.R. 3547, where the Appropriations Committee urges the secretary of state to encourage Japan to address the issues raised in H.R. 121.
"For me, setting up the appointment with the State Department and the White House was a meeting that I thought was appropriate because H.R. 121 is now law and so the State Department and the administration are supposed to follow through," Honda said. "I thought it would be a good meeting for them to have and it would be appropriate and so we asked them if they would be willing to meet with the halmoni and they said, 'Yes, of course.'"
There have been reports that White House officials plan to hold a follow-up meeting with the victims next month and the second meeting could involve more officials. But the lawmaker said there is no date set for an additional meeting.
Since the 2007 resolution calling for a Japanese apology became law in January, Honda said he had a meeting with State Department officials to make sure the department understands what the resolution is asking the government to do.
"It was a meeting to make sure we're all on the same page," he said.
Honda said he hopes the U.S. government will take action to fulfill the law. The best next step would be for the State Department to urge Japan to take more responsible steps, he said.
But before that, he said, he wants the department to understand what the issue is, and meetings with the victims were part of such efforts.
Honda also urged South Korea and Japan to act quickly to resolve the issue.
"I would hope that the negotiations between the two countries make progress and that they don't waste any time and that the Japanese minister needs to be sincere and have a timeline," the lawmaker said.
"I would expect that they have a deadline within the year to make a decision," he said. "I don't want the Japanese to stall and I don't expect the South Korean government to accept any movement that's stalling." (Yonhap)