President Park Geun-hye has said she could meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe early next month in Seoul on the sidelines of a trilateral summit with China.
Park said Thursday she is set to host the leaders of China and Japan in early November, though she did not provide a specific date.
A trilateral summit has not been held since May 2012 due to tensions mainly over Japan's attempts to whitewash its wartime atrocities and colonial occupation. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45 and controlled much of China in the early part of the 20th century.
South Korea and Japan are close economic partners and key allies of the U.S., though they have long been at odds over their shared history, including the Japanese military's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.
South Korea has repeatedly pressed Japan to resolve the issue of the elderly Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan's World War II soldiers -- one of the knottiest issues between the two neighbors.
"I think it's fair to say that there could be a meaningful summit if progress is made on the issue," Park said in a question-and-answer session after a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.
Park has so far shunned bilateral talks with Abe due to his apparent refusal to acknowledge Japan's responsibility for its past atrocities, including sex slavery.
The issue of sex slaves has gained urgency as the victims are dying off. In 2007, more than 120 South Korean victims were alive, but the number has since dropped to 47, with their average age standing at nearly 90.
"We don't really have much time left in terms of dealing with this issue," Park said.
Also Thursday, Park called for international coordination to make sure North Korea will recognize that pursuing its nuclear program is "an exercise in futility" and deepens its isolation.
"It's very important that the international community stands united in sending the message so they have no choice but to forgo their nuclear weapons capability," Park said.
North Korea pledged to scrap its nuclear program in return for diplomatic concessions and economic aid under a landmark 2005 nuclear deal with South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.
The North later backtracked from its commitment and conducted nuclear tests. It has also repeatedly vowed to develop its economy and nuclear arsenal in tandem, viewing its nuclear programs as a powerful deterrent against what it claims is Washington's hostile policy against it.
"The South Korea-U.S. alliance should exercise leadership to induce North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and pursue reform and openness," Park said.
On Friday, Park and U.S. President Barack Obama are set to adopt a joint statement on North Korea's nuclear program in the latest move that could illustrate their commitment to producing progress over the issue.
Park accused North Korea of sticking to the path of isolation while advancing its nuclear capability, citing a recent nuclear deal reached between the United States, five other world powers and Iran.
South Korea has called on North Korea to emulate Vietnam and Myanmar, which opted for reform and openness.
"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is at a crossroads due to the possibility of North Korea's provocations," Park said.
There is lingering speculation that North Korea may launch a long-range rocket in the coming months to put what it claims to be a satellite into orbit.
Seoul and Washington view a satellite launch as a cover for testing the North's ballistic missile technology, which is banned under U.N. resolutions.
A new rocket launch could prompt the U.N. to further tighten sanctions on North Korea, which has long been under an array of U.S. and international sanctions for its missile and nuclear tests. (Yonhap)