• Kyodo

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Senior officials from Japan and South Korea agreed Thursday over the telephone to continue dialogue and closely cooperate to mend bilateral ties that have sunk to a historic low over a wartime labor dispute, the Foreign Ministry said.

In the talks with Choi Jong-kun, South Korea's first vice minister of foreign affairs, Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba urged Seoul to make a move to return bilateral ties, which currently face an extremely difficult situation, to a sound footing, the ministry said.

The officials also agreed on the importance of their countries cooperating bilaterally as well as trilaterally with the United States for regional stability, it said. The talks were held at the request of Choi, who assumed the post in August.

Ties between the Asian neighbors have been frayed by the wartime labor dispute, but political exchanges gradually became active recently.

On Tuesday, Park Jie-won, director of the National Intelligence Service, became the highest-ranking South Korean official to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga since the latter took office in September.

South Korea's cross-party parliamentary group led by Kim Jin-pyo, a heavyweight member of the ruling Democratic Party, is also on a three-day visit to Japan from Thursday for meetings with its Japanese counterpart group headed by ruling Liberal Democratic Party member Fukushiro Nukaga, as well as with other senior Japanese lawmakers.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul, often strained by differing views of wartime history, hit their lowest point in years when the South Korean Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that four men should be compensated for forced labor during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.

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

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