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(2nd LD) Moon raises need to improve frayed ties at early date in letter to Abe

Diplomacy 12:40 October 24, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL/TOKYO, Oct. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in raised the need Thursday to improve the frayed ties with Japan at an early date in his personal letter to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The letter was delivered by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon to Abe during their 21-minute meeting in Tokyo held amid hopes of a breakthrough in mending the relations over Japan's wartime forced labor.

"The prime ministers of the two nations agreed that they cannot leave the current strained ties unaddressed as they are important neighbors," First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young told a press briefing in Tokyo.

In this regard, the two nations agreed to facilitate dialogue at the various levels to improve the ties at an early date.

They also agreed on the importance of seeking bilateral cooperation and trilateral coordination involving the United States to tackle North Korea's nuclear issue, he added.

But there was no specific discussion about the possibility of holding a summit between Moon and Abe, according to a senior government official.

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.

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 after wrapping up a three-day trip.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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