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Japan and South Korea agreed Aug. 14 to seek a provisional agreement in their fisheries talks by shelving the sensitive matter of the establishment of 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones in disputed seas, according to Foreign Ministry officials.

In the agreement, the two sides are expected to draw up jointly controlled boundaries around disputed islets in the Sea of Japan known as Takeshima in Japan and Tok-do in South Korea. Both nations claim sovereignty over the islands. Officials from Japan and South Korea proposed the provisional agreement during two days of talks that ended Aug. 14. Ministry officials added that the two nations remain far apart on the details, but declined to elaborate.

The fisheries talks had been suspended after Japan seized South Korean fishing boats in June and July. Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda and his counterpart, Yoo Chong Ha, agreed late last month to resume working-level discussions in August. Despite progress in the latest talks, a ministry official said he is not optimistic about future negotiations. Seoul had initially demanded that establishment of the economic zone precede talks for a fisheries agreement, while Japan had pressed for the two issues to be dealt with separately.

Japan and South Korea have been working to hammer out a new treaty to replace the current 1965 accord since ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea last year. The convention allows signatory nations to declare exclusive jurisdiction over fisheries and mineral resources lying within 200 nautical miles of their coastlines. But the row over the Takeshima islets has prevented the two nations from establishing economic zones and concluding a fisheries accord. The issue has become a major bilateral diplomatic dispute. Lack of progress at the latest two-day talks may have worsened ties between Tokyo and Seoul.

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