• Kyodo, staff report


Tokyo on Monday denied a report that Japan unilaterally broke an agreement to hold brief talks between Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the fringes of the Group of Seven summit in the United Kingdom.

Citing a South Korean Foreign Ministry official, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Monday that Japan had called off the planned "pull-aside" meeting between the two leaders due to a regular military exercise South Korea is due to hold around a group of islets claimed by Tokyo in the Sea of Japan.

South Korea plans to hold the defense drill on and around the islets on Tuesday, Yonhap reported. Japan calls the group Takeshima and regards them as "an inherent part" of its territory. South Korea, which controls them, calls them Dokdo.

"We think it is regrettable that the Japanese side did not respond to the pull-aside plan, which the two sides had agreed on at a working level, due to the annual drills to safeguard the East Sea territory," the ministry official was quoted as saying, referring to to the sea by the name South Korea uses for it.

The two leaders exchanged greetings while they were at the venue of the summit, according to Suga. They had not met in person since he became prime minister in September, reflecting the soured bilateral relationship over wartime labor compensation and other issues.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato hit back at the South Korean report, denying its veracity.

"We're aware of the report, but it's absolutely not true," he said. "This kind of false, unilateral announcement is deeply regrettable and we immediately protested to South Korean side."

The Japanese government had said Moon approached Suga and spoke to him as the South Korean president and other guests were joining a G7 discussion on Saturday.

Moon had been invited to attend part of the three-day G7 summit as a guest along with the leaders of Australia, India and South Africa.

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