South Korea may consider holding a long-delayed meeting between the South Korean and Japanese heads of state if Tokyo takes sincere steps toward resolving bilateral issues including the Japanese imperial army's wartime enslavement of Korean women, Seoul's foreign minister said Sunday.
"With next year marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations (between South Korea and Japan), we would not exclude the possibility (of a Seoul-Tokyo summit meeting) if the Japanese side takes heartfelt measures," Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said in an interview with the state broadcaster KBS.
"Looking back, previous South Korea-Japan summit meetings over the past 10 years often ended in a warlike atmosphere rather than being substantive, leading to worsened relations as a result," the foreign minister said.
"In order for a summit to bear results, there should be enough preparations and conditions should be met," he said.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are both expected to attend a meeting of state leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November in Beijing.
Since taking office in February last year, Park has yet to meet with Abe amid unusually icy bilateral relations, mostly stemming from the neighbors' differences on historical issues, including the so-called "comfort women."
Seoul has repeatedly called on Japan to apologize to and compensate aging South Korean women who were coerced into working at front-line brothels for the Japanese army during World War II.
Under the conservative Abe administration, Japan has been accused by South Korea and China of attempting to whitewash its wartime atrocities. In June, the Japanese government claimed that Japan's prior admission of its crimes was the outcome of a political compromise between Seoul and Tokyo.
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during the war.
Only 54 South Korean victims remain alive.
"It would be better for Japan and its future generations to solve this issue cleanly while the comfort women victims are still alive," Yun said.
On diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea, the foreign minister said there is "realistically" no alternative to the long-dormant six-party disarmament talks that involve South and North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. "Therefore, it's important to properly resume the six-way talks," he said.
The six-party denuclearization-for-economic aid talks have been stalled since late 2008 as the North has continued nuclear weapons development in defiance of former agreements reached in the negotiations.
The foreign minister also said he wanted to propose a meeting of the top negotiators of the six party member countries when he met his North Korean counterpart Ri Su-yong at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Myanmar earlier this month. "But I couldn't do it because the environment was not right."
Yun only had a brief brush with Ri during the Asian security meeting. (Yonhap)