The Japanese and South Korean governments are considering holding a meeting of their leaders in March in Washington to endorse settling the “comfort women” issue, sources said Saturday.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se are on Monday to discuss the issue of women who were procured to work at wartime Japanese military brothels.
If they agree on steps to solve the issue, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye may meet in Washington on the sidelines of a two-day nuclear security summit starting March 31 and then issue a joint statement to confirm the settlement of the dispute, the sources said.
The outcome of Monday’s talks is uncertain because there is a wide gap between the two countries over the amount of money that Japan should provide for a new fund to support former comfort women.
Tokyo is considering an offer of over ¥100 million ($830,000), but South Korea seeks at least ¥1 billion, a diplomatic source said.
The two countries are expected to seek a compromise Sunday at a meeting in Seoul of their senior officials.
Bilateral relations have been badly strained over World War II-related issues.
If the foreign ministers reach a basic agreement on the issue on Monday, Tokyo plans to request that Park visit Japan at an early date.
But given the possibility that such a visit would provoke a strong backlash from South Korean groups supporting former comfort women, the idea of holding an Abe-Park meeting in Washington to endorse the deal has come up.
As U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Japan and South Korea to work toward improving their relationship, Obama may also join the Abe-Park meeting in Washington, the sources said.
In a related move, the South Korean government lodged a protest with Japan on Saturday over Japanese media reports saying Seoul is considering relocating a statue of a girl symbolizing the comfort women from in front of the Japanese Embassy in the capital.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry summoned a senior official of the Japanese Embassy and explained that it is not for the South Korean government to say what to do about the statue because it was put up by a civic group, according to a ministry official.
Citing unnamed South Korean government sources, some Japanese media organizations had reported that South Korea would consider relocating the statue if Tokyo offered conditions acceptable to Seoul to settle the long-standing dispute.