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Kono to meet S. Korean, Russian counterparts

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono will hold talks separately with his South Korean and Russian counterparts this week

Feb 15


Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono will hold talks separately with his South Korean and Russian counterparts this week on the fringes of a security forum in Germany, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Kono's meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha is now being arranged for Friday amid a sharp deterioration in bilateral ties. He will also sit down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov possibly on Saturday in Munich. Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have shown no signs of improving, with recent comments made by South Korea's National Assembly speaker seeking an imperial apology to resolve a dispute over "comfort women" becoming a new flashpoint.

During the planned meeting, Kono is expected to convey Tokyo's protest again over the remarks by the speaker, Moon Hee Sang, who called Emperor Akihito "the son of the main culprit of war crimes" and urged him to apologize to the women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels.

Japan has demanded the speaker retract the remarks and apologize. Another focal point of the meeting is whether the foreign ministers can find a way out of the recent deadlock, following top court rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate for wartime forced labor.

A lawyer for South Korean plaintiffs in one of the cases said Thursday they will seek to liquidate the seized assets of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. if it continues to refuse to discuss compensation with them.

As Tokyo sees the rulings as a breach of a 1965 bilateral pact that settled the issue of compensation "finally and completely," it has been urging Seoul to accept its request to launch bilateral consultations for over a month.

The Asian neighbors have also clashed over the South Korean navy's alleged targeting of a fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane and Seoul's accusations of extremely low flights by Japan's Self-Defense Forces. Kono plans to visit Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference.

Arrangements are being made for Kono and Lavrov to meet during their stay there, Japanese officials said. Based on their leaders' agreement last year, Kono and Lavrov have been tasked with stepping up talks toward concluding a postwar peace treaty even as recent summit and ministerial meetings have clouded the outlook for an immediate breakthrough due to huge differences over disputed islands off Hokkaido.

Japan and Russia agreed in November to accelerate talks based on a 1956 declaration that mentions the transfer to Japan of two disputed islands -- Shikotan and the Habomai islet group -- following the conclusion of a treaty.

But the dispute over the islands -- called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia -- has prevented the two countries from signing a treaty.

Japan maintains the islands were seized by the Soviet Union following its 1945 surrender in World War II while Moscow takes the view it legitimately acquired them as a result of the war.