• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and South Korean President-elect Roh Moo Hyun agreed Thursday to build future-oriented bilateral relations in the wake of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s contentious visit this week to Yasukuni Shrine and amid the North Korean nuclear standoff.

Japanese officials said Roh expressed regret over Koizumi’s visit Tuesday to Yasukuni, but quoted him as adding: “It’s not good for exchanges to be suspended whenever there is a problem. The past is important, but the future is much more important . . . to build future-oriented relations.”

Kawaguchi and Roh agreed their countries would aim to find a peaceful solution to North Korea’s nuclear program through trilateral cooperation with the United States, the officials said.

They also agreed to effect a meeting between Koizumi and Roh at an early stage, according to the officials.

On Koizumi’s shrine visit, Roh was quoted as saying, “Leaders (of the two countries) must discuss how to build a friendly neighbor relationship in the true sense, without repeatedly criticizing visits (to Yasukuni) every year.”

Kawaguchi reportedly said: “Japan and South Korea have a long history of friendly relations. We hope to make Japan-South Korea ties strong under the leadership of President Roh.”

Kawaguchi and Roh also agreed on the need to cooperate with China, Russia and the European Union in dealing with North Korean nuclear issues, the officials said.

Kawaguchi had intended to work out details for Koizumi’s possible attendance at Roh’s Feb. 25 inauguration, but nothing was finalized as Roh said he is still considering how to conduct the ceremony, the officials said.

She invited Roh to visit Japan, they said.

Kawaguchi, the first Japanese minister to meet with Roh after his election in December, was initially scheduled to meet with him for 30 minutes, but the meeting was extended to an hour.

Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni has cast a cloud over Kawaguchi’s trip, with President Kim Dae Jung canceling a scheduled meeting with Kawaguchi on Wednesday, shortly before she left Tokyo for Seoul.

Kawaguchi met Foreign Minister Choi Sung Hon on Wednesday, and he expressed South Korea’s displeasure at Koizumi’s visit to the controversial shrine, where war criminals are enshrined along with Japan’s war dead.

The ministers discussed the North Korean issue and agreed the two countries will strengthen cooperation to deal with it, Japanese officials said after the meeting.

Koizumi visit planned

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will probably visit South Korea to meet with South Korean President-elect Roh Moo Hyun around the time of Roh’s inauguration on Feb. 25, a senior government official said Thursday.

Plans for Koizumi to attend Roh’s inauguration ceremony have not been finalized. Even if Koizumi does not attend the ceremony itself, the visit “will not be long after Feb. 25,” the official said.

Although the government has sought an early Koizumi-Roh meeting in order to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program, Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday cast a cloud over these plans.

The official said, however, that, “South Korea also appears willing to talk to Japan because Japan can work to keep ties between United States and South Korea over North Korean issues.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference Thursday that it would be good for the prime minister to meet and talk directly with the president-elect. Fukuda added that Koizumi’s visit has not yet been fixed.

Fukuda also said that he welcomed Roh’s declaration during his meeting with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi in Seoul that he wants to resolve the Yasukuni row over via dialogue between the nations’ top leaders.

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