The meeting, on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The
Hague, comes amid chilled ties between the Asian neighbors over
anger in South Korea that Japanese leaders have not atoned for
Japan's wartime aggression, including the use of Korean sex slaves,
as well as friction over the ownership of contested islands.
In move to thaw ties with another neighbor, Japan said it had agreed
to hold formal talks with North Korea for the first time in more
than a year to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, the
fate of Japanese citizens abducted decades ago and other bilateral
Abe, Park and U.S. President Barack Obama would discuss nuclear
non-proliferation and missile programs, the Japanese and Korean
foreign ministries said, in talks on either March 24 or 25.
News reports suggested they were likely to sidestep the issue of
wartime history. Both China and Korea suffered under Japanese rule,
with parts of China occupied in the 1930s and Korea colonized from
1910 to 1945.
Abe responded to a question at a news conference on Friday morning,
saying he was "glad" the leaders would meet, Kyodo news reported.
The three-way meeting will be a partial compromise by Park after
Washington pressed Seoul and Tokyo to improve ties ahead of Obama's
visit to the region next month.
Last week, Abe acknowledged a previous government apology to
"comfort women" forced to serve in wartime military brothels, which
was seen in Seoul as a softening of his nationalistic tone.
NORTH KOREA TALKS ALSO PLANNED
The Japanese government also said on Friday it and North Korea will
hold high-level talks on March 30-31 in Beijing.
Official meetings have been suspended since December 2012, when
North Korea test-launched a long-range missile.
[to top of second column]
Junichi Ihara, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's
Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, will attend the meeting, while
senior diplomat Song Il-ho will represent North Korea.
Japan's ties with North Korea have been fraught due to Japan's
1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang's missile
and nuclear projects and Japanese anger over the abduction of its
citizens by North Korean agents.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese
nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies and said eight
of them had died, including Megumi Yokota, who was abducted in 1977
on her way home from school at the age of 13.
Last week, Megumi Yokota's parents for the first time met their
26-year old granddaughter, Kim Eun Gyong, in the Mongolian capital
of Ulan Bator, a venue Japanese and North Korean officials often use
for unofficial contacts, rekindling hopes for the resolution of the
Megumi Yokota's parents and many others believe their abducted
relatives are still alive.
(Reporting by Sophie Knight, Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Ju-min
Park in Seoul; editing by Nick Macfie and Miral Fahmy)
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