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Washington, Feb 14 – Vice foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan held rare bilateral talks in Washington, seeking to mend ties soured by the prolonged issue of Japan’s wartime forced labour.
South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong said the sides will continue to hold discussions but that they have yet to reach any conclusion, Yonhap News Agency reported.
“We are still trying to find common ground,” he told reporters when asked about his bilateral meeting with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori on Monday.
The meeting comes after Seoul proposed establishing a public foundation through which Japanese companies can compensate Korean victims of Japan’s wartime forced labour.
“I cannot comment on any specific issue at this point because it is a very sensitive issue not only to us but also to Japan,” said Cho when asked if there has been any progress in the meeting with his Japanese counterpart, which lasted nearly two hours longer than it was originally scheduled.
“The fact the meeting lasted longer than scheduled is not a bad thing, but that our discussions lasted longer may also mean we were unable to reach a conclusion, so I believe we will need to continue our consultations,” he added.
The South Korean diplomat earlier said the countries have narrowed their differences in some areas but not others.
The Cho-Mori talks followed a trilateral meeting, involving U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
In a joint press conference after the trilateral talks, the Japanese vice foreign minister said Japan “very much would like to cooperate with the ROK,” referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
He added Japan “would like to restore and further advance sound bilateral relations” based on what has been built since the normalisation of diplomatic ties.
Cho said he and his Japanese counterpart also discussed Seoul’s concerns over the potential release of radiation-contaminated water from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in South Korean waters.
When asked if the countries have committed to future bilateral talks, Cho said no specific date has been set for a vice ministerial meeting but noted the possibility of a bilateral meeting between their foreign ministers at the Munich Security Conference, set to be held later in the week.
Cho and Mori also highlighted the importance of cooperation between the two countries, as well as trilateral cooperation with the US, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.
“The vice ministers reaffirmed their joint objective of completely denuclearising North Korea and the importance of close communication and cooperation between the two countries, as well as trilateral cooperation with the US,” it said in a press release.
They also agreed on the need to continue strengthening the countries’ bilateral and trilateral cooperation with the US in dealing with various regional and global issues, it added.
In addition, the vice ministers agreed to enhance their countries’ cooperation with other like-minded countries, such as Australia and New Zealand that together with their countries form the so-called Asia-Pacific Partnership or AP4, according to the ministry.
“The vice ministers noted that the countries are continuing to accelerate close consultations between their diplomatic authorities for swift resolution of outstanding issues and normalization of relationship, and agreed to continue close consultations at various levels,” it said.