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Abe, Moon affirm coordination on N. Korea, at odds over wartime issue

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and new South Korean
President Moon Jae In affirmed Thursday they will coordinate closely
in addressing North Korea, according to a Japanese government
official.

While the leaders displayed unity in their stance on North Korea
in their first talks since Moon was sworn in the day prior,
differences were seen in their views on managing historical
grievances, including the row over the Korean "comfort women" forced
to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.

After hearing Abe's assessment of North Korea's nuclear and
missile development efforts, Moon said he is "of the same thought" on
the matter, according to the official.

Abe told Moon that while it is important to resolve the
situation surrounding North Korea peacefully and diplomatically,
dialogue for dialogue's sake is meaningless, and it is crucial for
Pyongyang to show an earnest resolve and specific actions toward
denuclearization for there to be meaningful dialogue.

Moon, South Korea's first liberal president in nearly a decade,
has said he will aim to engage more closely with North Korea in an
effort to dissuade it from further development of nuclear weapons and
ballistic missiles.
The new president had said Wednesday he is open to visiting
North Korea under the right conditions.
Abe told Moon that he wants to "appropriately manage" bilateral
relations, including a December 2015 agreement aimed at settling the
row over the comfort women issue. Moon has advocated renegotiating
the deal.

Abe told his South Korean counterpart that it is important to
implement the agreement, citing praise from the international
community for it, the official said.

According to the official, Moon did not mention renegotiation of
the agreement in their talks, but told Abe that Japan and South Korea
need to resolve their historical issues "astutely."

The official said Moon did not express a negative view of the
deal itself, only explaining to Abe that it is viewed with caution in
South Korea.

But in Seoul, a spokesman for Moon said the president told Abe
it "is a reality that most of the South Korean people are emotionally
unable to accept (the agreement)."

The Abe administration has said the agreement obligates South
Korea to "deal appropriately" with statues commemorating the women
outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul and the consulate in Busan.

Japan recalled its ambassador to South Korea for nearly four
months earlier this year in response to the installation of the Busan
statue by a civic group.

Apparently referring to the statue row, spokesman Yoon Young
Chan quoted Moon as telling Abe a resolution would "take time,
because there is a limit to what the South Korean government can do
to resolve an issue taking place in the private sector."

According to Yoon, Moon told Abe Japan needs to respect the
spirit of the 1993 "Kono statement," which acknowledges the forceful
recruitment of comfort women and the involvement of the Japanese
military.

The statement by Japan's then Chief Cabinet Secretary Kohei Yono
followed a study by the Japanese government on the matter.

Yoon also said Moon told Abe that Japan and South Korea need to
deal with their historical grievances separately from their
cooperation in addressing North Korea.

The Japanese official said Abe and Moon agreed in their roughly
25-minute telephone conversation to meet for talks as soon as
possible.

According to the official, Abe congratulated Moon on his
election victory and said he wants to build "future-oriented"
bilateral ties, while Moon told Abe of his desire to "strive together
as leaders of our countries to build a good relationship of trust."

The two leaders could hold their first face-to-face talks in
July on the margins of a summit of Group of 20 major economies in
Germany.

Abe also told Moon he hopes to hold a trilateral summit with
China as soon as possible. Japan is due to host the next summit,
which did not take place last year as planned amid political turmoil
surrounding Moon's impeached predecessor Park Geun Hye.

The talks came just after Moon's conversation with Chinese
President Xi Jinping.

Moon spoke on Wednesday with U.S. President Donald Trump,
agreeing to closely cooperate in resolving tensions on the Korean
Peninsula, centering on North Korea's pursuit of nuclear arms. (May 11)