• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, in the South Korean capital to cement bilateral cooperation over North Korea’s nuclear development program, ran into an apparent snub Wednesday over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine.

In an apparent expression of displeasure at Koizumi’s shrine visit the day before, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung abruptly canceled a meeting with Kawaguchi.

The shrine honors Class-A war criminals along with Japan’s war dead and is regarded as a symbol of the nation’s militarist past.

Koizumi has now visited the shrine three times since taking office in April 2001.

The Japanese government attributed the cancellation to Kim’s schedule.

“I’m sure the president also very much regrets that the visit (to the shrine), which the South Korean government opposes, has been repeated,” South Korean Ambassador to Japan Cho Se Hyung told reporters in Tokyo after learning of the cancellation of Kim’s meeting with Kawaguchi.

Cho’s remarks came after a meeting with Vice Foreign Minister Yukio Takeuchi at the Foreign Ministry to protest Koizumi’s visit to the shrine.

Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945, and South Korea and China view Koizumi’s visits to the shrine as an affront.

Koizumi meanwhile told reporters at his office that he believed the cancellation of Kim’s meeting with Kawaguchi was due to a scheduling problem.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda also rejected the idea that the cancellation was related to Koizumi’s visit to the shrine.

Kawaguchi was able to meet with Choi Sung Hong, South Korean minister of foreign affairs and trade, and the two reaffirmed the importance of bilateral cooperation in response to North Korea’s nuclear development program.

Following North Korea’s declaration Friday that it is withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Kawaguchi and Choi agreed to urge Pyongyang to rescind its declaration and called on the reclusive state to immediately scrap its nuclear development program.

“The North Korean issue is increasingly important to the international community,” Kawaguchi told Choi. “We’d like to cooperate for regional peace and security and for a better Japan-South Korean relationship.”

Kawaguchi is scheduled to pay a courtesy call Thursday on President-elect Roh Moo Hyun before returning home.

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