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(LEAD) FM speaks with Kerry amid renewed historical tensions with Japan

All Headlines 11:18 January 12, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with more comments in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, the ministry said, amid heightened tensions between Seoul and Tokyo over a statue symbolizing Japan's wartime sexual slavery.

Tensions have flared anew between the two American allies after South Korean civic activists erected the girl's statue in front of Japan's consulate in the South Korean port city of Busan.

Japan has demanded the statue be removed, calling it a violation of the 2015 agreement that the two countries reached on resolving the sexual slavery issue. In protest, Tokyo has also recalled its ambassador and consul general from South Korea.

During the 15-minute call, Kerry told Yun that the South has sincerely carried out the 2015 agreement so far, and is responding to the "difficult situation" created between the South and Japan in a "restrained" manner, according to the ministry.

In response, Yun explained to Kerry the intentions and motives behind Prime Minister and acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn's recent call for refraining from acts and words aggravating the situation, the ministry said. Yun also said it's important to respect the intent and spirit of the agreement.

The foreign minister said the South will make necessary efforts to develop relations with Japan in a future-oriented way.

The two sides exchanged views on the situation with regard to North Korea and the region and agreed that the alliance between the two countries must continue under the new U.S. administration, the ministry said.

Yun stressed that during the power transition period in Washington, North Korea could possibly launch strategically calculated military provocations. The officials agreed that the stringent full-range sanctions and pressure should be maintained against North Korea so that it has no other option but give up its nuclear program, the ministry said.

Yun also hailed Kerry's exit note in which he cited threats posed by North Korea's nuclear program as "among the gravest our country faces today."

The South Korean minister requested Kerry's special attention to the importance of carrying the Obama administration's diplomacy and security policies into the future, to which Kerry replied he will lend support even after his departure from office, the ministry said in a statement.

The two diplomats then concurred that during the past four years, their countries' alliance has gone beyond the typical Asia-Pacific sphere and expanded to cover global issues.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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