President Park Geun-hye has said "considerable progress" has been made with Japan on the issue of former South Korean sex slaves for Japan's World War II soldiers, according to an interview posted Friday.
Seoul-Tokyo relations remain badly frayed largely because of Japan's refusal to atone for its past wrongdoing stemming from its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45. One of the key pending issues is a demand by former Korean sex slaves for an apology and compensation from Japan.
Japan has so far refused to comply with the demand, insisting that the so-called "comfort women" were recruited by civilian profiteers and its wartime military-led government was not directly involved.
"There has been considerable progress on the issue of the comfort women, and we are in the final stage of our negotiations,"
Park said in an interview posted on the website of the Washington Post.
Still, she declined to elaborate on the progress, citing behind-the-scenes discussions.
Park has repeatedly pressed Japan to restore the honor of the former sex slaves while they are still alive.
The issue has gained urgency as the number of living victims has shrunk. Two former sex slaves died on Thursday, reducing to only 50 the number of surviving victims.
Park also told the newspaper that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's reign of terror is "sowing and amplifying the seeds of instability for the regime," referring to the executions of some 90 officials in recent years.
In May, South Korea's spy agency said the North executed its defense chief, Hyon Yong-chol, in late April with an anti-aircraft gun for showing disloyalty to Kim.
She also called for pressure on North Korea to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table it walked away from in 2008. The six-party nuclear talks were designed to end North Korea's nuclear program in return for aid and diplomatic concessions. The talks involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.
Asked whether she feels squeezed between the U.S. and China over the possible deployment of a U.S. missile-defense battery in South Korea, Park said that when it comes to security, it shouldn't be about yes or no, depending on the position of certain countries.
"The first priority should be how can we best safeguard the Korean people," Park said.
South Korea is struggling to walk a diplomatic tightrope between the U.S., Seoul's key ally, and China, Seoul's largest trading partner, over the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense
(THAAD) battery that is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles in their terminal stage.
Washington hopes to deploy THAAD in South Korea to counter ballistic missile threats posed by North Korea, saying it is a purely defensive system.
Still, China has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the possible deployment of a THAAD battery in South Korea, suspecting it is part of U.S. attempts to contain a rising China. (Yonhap)