National / Politics

U.N. chief backed 'comfort women' deal when he met Abe in Italy, Tokyo insists


The government’s top spokesman has repeated Japan’s assertion that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the Japan-South Korea deal pertaining to Korean women who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels when the U.N. chief met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Italy.

“The truth is what the Japan side has announced,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a press conference on Monday.

His remark came after Antonio Guterres’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, released a statement the previous day, saying the secretary general did not “pronounce himself on the content of a specific agreement” during his meeting with Abe on Saturday on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in the Italian city of Taormina.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s presidential office announced Monday that it directly confirmed with Guterres that he did not comment on the substance of the deal in his conversation with the Japanese leader.

Suga repeated the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s announcement that Abe stressed the importance of complying with the 2015 agreement and it quoted Guterres as saying he supports and welcomes the deal.

The accord was struck in December 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” settle the long-standing feud over Korean “comfort women.”

Dujarric said Guterres and Abe did discuss the issue of comfort women and the secretary general agreed that this is a matter to be solved by an agreement between the two countries.

He said Guterres pronounced “on the principle that it is up to the two countries to define the nature and the content of the solution for this issue.”

Under the landmark deal, Japan disbursed ¥1 billion ($8.9 million) last year to a South Korean fund to provide support to former comfort women and their families.

Guterres’s predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean native, welcomed the deal while in office. But new South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged to renegotiate it during his election campaign.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry, in a statement Monday, said Seoul wants to “wisely” tackle the problem through joint efforts with Tokyo “while accepting the reality that the majority of our public do not approve of the comfort women agreement sentimentally.”