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(LEAD) Prime Minister Lee delivers President Moon's letter to Abe on Seoul-Tokyo ties

All Headlines 11:45 October 24, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES lead paras; CHANGES headline, photo)

SEOUL/TOKYO, Oct. 24 (Yonhap) -- The prime ministers of South Korea and Japan had talks in Tokyo on Thursday in an effort to find ways to mend frayed ties between the two nations over the Korean top court's rulings on Tokyo's wartime forced labor.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for 21 minutes, double the time initially planned.

Lee delivered President Moon Jae-in's personal letter to Abe, according to his office. Moon's message remains undisclosed, but it's apparently about his commitment to resolving the dispute over historical issues and improving bilateral ties.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon (L) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of their meeting in Tokyo on Oct. 24, 2019. (Yonhap)

Lee earlier voiced hope that his meeting with Abe could set the tone for the two nations to facilitate dialogue.

The Seoul-Tokyo relations have been strained since the Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms in October 2018 to compensate Korean victims of Tokyo's forced labor during the 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

In July, Japan imposed export curbs against the South and removed Seoul from the whitelist of its trusted trade partners the following month in apparent retaliation against the court rulings.

Tokyo has reacted angrily to the Seoul court's decisions, claiming that all reparation issues linked to its colonial rule were settled in the 1965 state-to-state pact on normalizing diplomatic relations.

In August, South Korea decided not to extend the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a military info-sharing pact with Japan, citing Tokyo's attitude. The pact, a key tool for trilateral cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, will expire in November.

The two nations still remain apart over key contentious issues, clouding the prospect for resolving them in a short period of time.

But Lee's meeting with Abe raises cautious optimism about the resumption of a high-level dialogue channel, including the possibility of a summit between President Moon and Abe.

Thursday's meeting was also attended by South Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo and First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young.

Lee will return home later in the day.


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