• Kyodo

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Seoul on Thursday tried to return to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda the letter he sent to South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to protest recent gestures by Lee deemed acrimonious to bilateral ties, but the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo would not accept it.

Noda’s letter condemned Lee’s demand that Emperor Akihito apologize for Japan’s 1910-1045 colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula and Lee’s Aug. 10 visit to disputed islets in the Sea of Japan that are controlled by South Korea but have long been claimed by Japan.

The South Korean diplomat sent to return Noda’s letter was not allowed entry into the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. Seoul later put the letter in the mail.

Japan’s refusal to receive the returned letter is “hard to understand in terms of diplomatic protocol,” Yonhap News Agency quoted a senior official at the South Korean Foreign Ministry as saying after the envoy was turned away.

The diplomat visited the ministry Thursday afternoon and was refused permission to enter, according to South Korean diplomatic sources in Tokyo.

Foreign Ministry officials in Tokyo claimed the diplomat was turned away because he did not have an appointment.

Noda sent the letter to Lee on Aug. 17, proposing to take the territorial dispute over islets Japan calls Takeshima, and Seoul calls Dokdo, to the International Court of Justice to resolve the row.

Noda also expressed regret in the letter over Lee’s visit to one of the islets as well as Lee’s later demand that the Emperor apologize if the monarch truly wishes to visit South Korea.

South Koran officials said Noda referred to the islets as Takeshima in the letter to Lee.

“It’s very natural to return a letter that contains contents that can never be accepted under any circumstances,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young said in explaining the reason for returning the letter.

“The islets called Takeshima do not exist, and such a term is so incorrect and unjust that we cannot accept it,” Yonhap quoted Cho as saying.

The South Korean government also rejected Japan’s proposal to take the territorial dispute to the ICJ.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Seoul’s decision to send back the letter greatly deviated from normal diplomatic protocol.

“It is inconceivable under normal conditions that letters exchanged between nations’ leaders are sent back,” Fujimura told reporters.

Seoul also responded curtly to Noda’s demand during a legislative session Thursday that Lee apologize for his remarks about the Emperor.

“We don’t feel the need to respond to the nonsensical argument,” Yonhap quoted an unnamed senior South Korean presidential official as saying.

Cho, the South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, also lodged a protest over Foreign Minister Koiichiro Genba’s remark the previous day that South Korea is “illegally occupying” the disputed islets.

“We strongly protest and urge Japan to retract the remark and not to repeat the same thing,” Cho said.

Genba made the remark in a Diet session Wednesday, saying: “We’re in a situation where we cannot exercise part of our jurisdiction because of South Korea. We can say this situation constitutes an illegal occupation.”

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