(ATTN: UPDATES with presidential official's remarks, background in paras 6-7, 9)
By Lee Haye-ah
NEW YORK, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met in New York Wednesday and agreed on the need to improve relations between the two countries by resolving pending issues, the presidential office said.
Their meeting, which took place in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, marked the first one-on-one talks between the leaders of the two nations since December 2019 and raised hope of improving relations badly frayed over wartime forced labor and other issues related to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
"The two leaders agreed on the need to improve bilateral relations by resolving pending issues, and agreed to instruct their diplomats to accelerate talks between them to that end while also continuing discussions between themselves," Lee Jae-myoung, deputy presidential spokesperson, said in a written briefing.
"The two leaders shared serious concern about North Korea's nuclear program, including its recent legalization of nuclear arms and the possibility of a seventh nuclear test, and agreed to cooperate closely with the international community to respond to it," he added.
The meeting, which the presidential office described as "informal talks," lasted 30 minutes in a conference building close to the U.N. headquarters.
"We took the first step toward producing tangible results," a presidential official told reporters in New York. "After two years and 10 months, despite the existence of various disputes between South Korea and Japan, the two leaders met and took the first step toward a resolution. That is why it was highly significant."
It was not immediately clear whether the wartime forced labor issue was directly addressed.
Yoon and Kishida had met several times on the sidelines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Madrid in June, but it was the first time they sat down for one-on-one talks.
The president has repeatedly expressed a commitment to improving the bilateral relationship in a departure from his liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, saying the two countries should uphold the spirit of the 1998 Kim Dae-jung-Obuchi Declaration that called for overcoming the past and building new relations.
During their meeting, Yoon and Kishida also agreed to stand together with the international community in defending the universal values shared by their countries, including a liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law, according to Lee.
They promised to continue communication, he added.
Details of the summit had been kept under wraps for days after Japan reportedly balked at South Korea's announcement of the meeting before both sides had fully agreed to it.
The two sides have been locked in a protracted row over the issue of compensation for Korean forced labor victims.
South Korea's top court has ruled that Japanese firms pay compensation to the victims, while Japan has insisted all issues of compensation were settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries.
The meeting was one of the highlights of Yoon's three-nation swing that began in Britain on Sunday and brought him to New York for the U.N. General Assembly on Monday.
Yoon will visit Toronto and Ottawa on the final legs of his seven-day trip on Thursday and Friday.
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