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(2nd LD) Top U.S. diplomat for Asia meets Seoul officials on S. Korea-Japan row, Korea peace process

All Headlines 11:51 July 17, 2019

(ATTN: CHANGES headline; ADDS more info in paras 5-6)
By Song Sang-ho and Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, July 17 (Yonhap) -- David Stilwell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia policy, held a series of talks with top Seoul officials on Wednesday amid a rancorous export row between Seoul and Tokyo, and renewed friction with Pyongyang over the allies' planned military exercise.

The new assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs began his three-day visit here Tuesday, amid Seoul's call for U.S. mediation to reverse Tokyo's recent export restrictions seen as a retaliatory step following last year's top court rulings here over Japan's wartime forced labor.

David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, visits South Korea's foreign ministry in Seoul on July 17, 2019. (Yonhap)

Stilwell met senior officials from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae and the foreign ministry to discuss diplomacy for North Korea's denuclearization, overall efforts to foster a lasting peace on the divided peninsula and ways to further strengthen the bilateral alliance.

The American diplomat first met Kim Hyun-chong, deputy director of the presidential National Security Office, at the foreign ministry.

Kim told reporters later that the two sides discussed bilateral ties between South Korea and the U.S., the North's nuclear quandary and broader issues concerning Northeast Asia.

Asked about their discussions on the ongoing spat between Seoul and Tokyo, Kim said that Stilwell "sufficiently understood the seriousness of the issue."

Stilwell also met South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Lee Do-hoon.

In the afternoon, he plans to hold talks with Deputy Minister for Political Affairs Yoon Soon-gu and then pay a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

During their talks with Stilwell, South Korean officials were expected to call for the U.S. to play a role in defusing the tensions between Seoul and Tokyo that flared up following Japan's July 4 measure to tighten restrictions on exports of three key industrial materials used in semiconductors and displays.

Some observers said that Stilwell could make a request for Seoul to join the U.S. initiative to form an international military coalition to ensure free navigation in the strategically crucial Strait of Hormuz off Iran.

He could also touch on the allies' sharing of the cost for the upkeep of U.S. troops in South Korea. Seoul and Washington are expected to launch negotiations in the coming months on a cost-sharing deal for the stationing of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea.

Before his trip to Seoul, Stilwell visited Japan and the Philippines. His first Asia tour since taking office last month also includes a stop in Thailand.

A former Air Force brigadier general, Stilwell was officially appointed on June 20. Prior to his current post, he served in the Air Force for 35 years, beginning as an enlisted Korean linguist in 1980 and retiring in 2015 as the Asia adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, according to the State Department.

sshluck@yna.co.kr

elly@yna.co.kr
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