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A meeting in April with senior South Korean officials is being considered to lay the groundwork for a bilateral summit, diplomatic sources said Thursday.

Foreign Ministry officials from both sides are ready to step up preparations for the so-called director general-level meeting, including deciding which issues to discuss, the sources said.

South Korea has insisted the talks focus exclusively on the “comfort women,” the euphemistic term Japan uses to refer to the tens of thousands of girls and women who were forced to provide sex to Imperial Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. But Japan argues that the talks should allow room for discussion of a broader range of bilateral issues.

If the two sides fail to narrow the gap, they may opt to delay the meeting, the sources said.

The two governments agreed to hold a senior officials’ meeting after Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki proposed the idea to South Korean Ambassador Lee Byung-kee on Feb. 17, they added.

Saiki made the proposal as a step to improve ties soured by a dispute over a pair of tiny islets in the Sea of Japan, held by South Korea but claimed by Tokyo, as well as differing perceptions about the history of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

In a related development, a Foreign Ministry official met with an official from a center for former South Korean comfort women on March 17 at a Seoul hotel, a South Korean official familiar with the issue said Thursday.

The House of Sharing center is on the outskirts of Seoul.

The South Korean official relayed to Yasushi Yamamoto, chief of a unit handling regional policies, what the women are demanding from Tokyo.

According to the Hankuk Ilbo, the official from the center asked Tokyo to admit its legal responsibility and for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to offer an apology for the forced mobilization of the women, known in Japanese as “ianfu.”

Isolation strategy

Washington KYODO

The United States and Japan are working together to isolate North Korea in the hope of forcing it to denuclearize, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday following the North’s test-firing of midrange ballistic missiles.

“We and Japan are committed to the goal of denuclearization on the peninsula, to working together to isolate North Korea towards that end,” Harf told a press briefing as Pyongyang fired two Rodong missiles into the Sea of Japan earlier Wednesday.

The remarks seemed intended to encourage Japan, which is due to resume formal talks with North Korea on Sunday and Monday, to keep up pressure on Pyongyang.

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