(ATTN: ADDS Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman's comments in paras 5-6)
WASHINGTON, July 19 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that he is willing, if needed, to help resolve escalating tensions between South Korea and Japan.
Speaking to the White House press corps in the Oval Office to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar mission, Trump said South Korean President Moon Jae-in asked if he could mediate.
"It's like a full-time job getting involved between Japan and South Korea," Trump said, although adding he will be there if the two countries need him. The president did not elaborate on what kind of request was made by Moon, and pointed out he preferred Seoul and Tokyo resolve the trade dispute by themselves.
Trump's remarks on the South Korea-Japan confrontation are his first comments on the matter and may signal a move by Washington to try to broker an understanding, and prevent the spat from moving beyond semiconductors and displays into the security realm.
In a statement sent to reporters Saturday, presidential spokesperson Ko Min-jung said Moon asked Trump during a summit last month pay attention to a possible trade dispute between Seoul and Tokyo.
Back then, Japanese media reports had it that Japan may take economic retaliatory measures against South Korea following a Seoul court's rulings against Japanese companies last year.
Diplomatic insiders have hinted that the U.S. from the very outset emphasized the need for South Korea and Japan to try to work out their differences.
The latest row began in 2018, when South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to compensate forced labor victims. Tokyo has strongly protested the rulings, arguing that all reparation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty the two countries signed when they normalized diplomatic relations.
In retaliation, Tokyo slapped export restrictions on the South early this month and warned that it could take additional retaliatory measures, such as removing South Korea from a so-called whitelist of countries given preferential treatment in trade procedures. Curbing exports of critical materials used in the manufacturing of semiconductors and displays can impact the South Korean economy and even the worldwide market.
Seoul has rebutted Japan's accusation that Seoul violated international law by failing to meet what it calls an arbitrary deadline set by Tokyo for discussion of the forced labor compensation issue. It has repeatedly urged the neighboring country to take steps to handle the situation in a diplomatic manner, and recently warned that escalating tensions could jeopardize security cooperation between the two sides that have worked closely to denuclearize North Korea.
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