• Kyodo, Staff Report

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eyeing talks with new South Korean President Moon Jae-in in July or earlier to discuss the thorny “comfort women” agreement and three-way cooperation with the United States to address growing threats from North Korea, diplomatic sources said Saturday.

While Abe will most likely seek a meeting on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 major economies in Hamburg, Germany, in early July, Tokyo is also exploring the possibility of having Moon, who took office May 10, visit Japan on his way back from a planned trip to the United States in late June, they said.

Moon has called for renegotiating the 2015 agreement the preceding administration struck with Japan to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the long-standing issue of Korean women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.

Japan hopes Moon’s administration will stick to the accord but remains cautious about the prospect, given the strong opposition from the South Korean public.

Under the accord, Japan disbursed ¥1 billion ($8.9 million) last year to a South Korean fund to help the surviving former comfort women and their families.

A South Korean civic group set up a statue symbolizing the comfort women in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan last December, triggering a protest by Tokyo, which said the statue goes against the spirit of the agreement.

The statue reportedly appeared in December, shortly after Defense Minister Tomomi Inada paid a visit to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine right after returning from Hawaii with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe following his historic visit to the sensitive USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Japan’s neighbors are often angered by such visits, saying the shrine glorifies the Shinto-inspired militarism that led to the war.

Despite the differences over the decades-old sex slave issue, Tokyo wants to promote trilateral coordination involving their mutual ally the United States as North Korea steps up its missile and nuclear weapons development.

On May 15, Abe said on a Japanese TV program he wants to hold talks with Moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting. Abe and Moon agreed in telephone talks earlier in the month to meet at an early date.

On the possibility of Moon’s visit to Japan, a Japanese diplomat said “it will be best” if Moon, who is meeting U.S. President Donald Trump in June, stops over on his way back because doing so would demonstrate close coordination among the three in dealing with Pyongyang.

Japan is also exploring the idea of hosting a trilateral summit with South Korea and China on the occasion of Moon’s visit to Japan. The three-way summit, initially eyed in 2017, has been postponed due partly to political turmoil in South Korea.

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