• Reuters, Kyodo


South Korea's spy chief has proposed a summit of the leaders of the United States, Japan and the two Koreas during the Tokyo Olympics next year, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday.

Park Jie-won made the proposal in Japan, where he arrived Sunday for his first trip as head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) with the aim of improving relations strained by a feud over compensation for Koreans who worked for Japanese firms during Tokyo's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Park suggested the summit during a Tuesday meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, saying it could take up the issues of North Korea's denuclearization and the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, the newspaper said.

Japan's relations with both North and South Korea have long been difficult, largely because of its colonialism.

Park conveyed South Korean President Moon Jae-in's willingness to normalize ties with Japan, for which he said there needed to be some Japanese apology or expression of regret for the wartime forced labor, the newspaper said.

"The Olympics could provide a chance to resolve the bilateral issue of forced labor and regional issues including North Korea's nuclear programs and Japanese abductees," the newspaper cited Park as saying.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Park had suggested that Moon and Suga announce a new declaration to build on a 1998 joint pledge of a "future-oriented relationship."

"Both leaders are strongly willing to resolve current issues," the news agency quoted Park as saying.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's attendance at such a summit would be a landmark.

The NIS declined to comment on the reports.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato did not elaborate on the summit suggestion in a briefing but said Suga told Park that cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the United States was essential in dealing with North Korea.

Kato cited Suga as demanding that South Korea "create an opportunity to restore healthy relations between Japan and South Korea, which have been in a very severe situation".

Park is the highest-ranking South Korean official to meet with Suga since the prime minister took office in September.

Speaking to reporters after the roughly 25-minute meeting on Tuesday, Park said he relayed Moon's "courteous request," adding he believes ties between the neighboring countries will improve if both sides continue dialogue.

Suga, meanwhile, reiterated his call for Seoul to take the first step in returning to a "constructive relationship" with Tokyo, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul, often strained by differing views on wartime history, hit the lowest point in years following a South Korean Supreme Court ruling that four men be compensated for forced labor during Japan's rule over the Korean Peninsula.

Japan argues the 2018 ruling goes against a 1965 bilateral accord under which it provided financial aid to South Korea with the understanding that the issue of compensation was settled "completely and finally."

In the meeting, Suga and Park agreed to work closely together to address threats from North Korea, with the prime minister stressing the importance of working together with mutual ally the United States, the ministry said.

Suga also asked for Seoul's continued support in efforts to secure the return of Japanese nationals abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s.

Park's visit from Sunday also included a meeting with Toshihiro Nikai, second-in-charge of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and one of the architects of Suga's rise to power.

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