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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on June 15)

All Headlines 07:03 June 15, 2015

Progress at last?
Seoul says talks on military sex slaves in final stages

In an interview with the Washington Post, President Park Geun-hye said that "there has been considerable progress on the issue of comfort women," referring to women who were forced into Japanese military sex slavery during World War II.

Park noted that Korea and Japan are in the "final stage of our negotiations," and said, "So I think we can expect to look forward to a very meaningful 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic ties."

While she declined to elaborate on the progress made, saying that they are "behind-the-scenes discussions," the interview revealed that the resolution of the military sexual slavery issue is tied to how the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Korea-Japan ties would be celebrated on June 22.

Asked if she is hoping for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to make some kind of apology, Park replied, "It behooves Japan to bring healing to their wounds and to bring honor to them before another comfort woman passes away." Between the time of the interview and its publication, two more elderly former military sex slaves passed away on June 11 and the number of survivors now stands at a mere 50.

In an interview with a Japanese media outlet, Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong said that the negotiations are at a crucial stage, and that detailed and close talks are underway. The negotiations revolve around Japanese government’s admission of responsibility, apology to the victims, and other appropriate measures, such as compensations. The two sides have so far held eight rounds of talks.

The Japanese government's response to the hints of substantial progress has been varied. A Japanese newspaper said a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official expressed confusion, saying it is difficult to assess from what perspective Park described the situation as "considerable progress." Another paper quoted a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official as sayingb "no progress has been made between Japan and South Korea in meetings." One more Japanese government source is quoted as remarking, “South Korea likely intends to tell the U.S. that it is making efforts to improve ties between Japan and South Korea."

If the expressed differences in perspectives by the two sides is diplomatic posturing, then so be it. But if the two sides really cannot see eye to eye even on how the negotiations are going, the prospects of the talks yielding meaningful results anytime soon seem dim.

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