Japan, South Korea agree to revive 'shuttle diplomacy'
Envoy's visit to Tokyo paves way for early Abe-Moon summit
TOKYO -- Japan and South Korea on Thursday agreed to arrange a summit between their leaders in the near future, as they look to get a handle on the North Korean threat and lingering historical disagreements.
Moon Hee-sang, a special envoy from Seoul, hand-delivered a letter from new South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The letter called for the resumption of "shuttle diplomacy," whereby the two leaders would pay each other regular visits.
Abe agreed. "South Korea is our most important neighbor, with which we share strategic interests," Abe stressed, adding that he looked forward to holding a summit with the new president at an early date.
The envoy said President Moon was also hoping for an early meeting.
The two sides also resolved to coordinate closely on North Korea, which continues to test-launch missiles in defiance of international condemnation.
On the other hand, it appears Abe and the envoy were not entirely on the same page over the 2015 deal concerning wartime "comfort women."
The agreement, struck by Abe and ousted former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, was intended to "finally and irrevocably" settle the matter, with Japan paying 1 billion yen ($9 million at the current rate) to a fund for the women set up by the South Korean government.
Abe told Moon Hee-sang that he hoped "to properly manage the two countries' relationship, including the agreement." After the meeting, the envoy told reporters that he had "spoken sincerely" about the issue, but did not disclose what he said. In the past, he has said that Tokyo and Seoul need to solve the problem by a "third route" that does not involve tearing up or renegotiating the deal.
At a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday, the envoy had said the South Korean people find the deal emotionally difficult to accept.
Moon Hee-sang later met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to discuss the North Korean situation. Suga said that "holding talks [with the North] for the sake of holding talks is pointless" and that everything depends on whether North Korea is willing to denuclearize.
Suga's comments were similar to what U.S. President Donald Trump told another South Korean special envoy, Hong Seok-hyun, in Washington on Wednesday. Yonhap News Agency reported that Trump said he was willing to resolve the North Korean nuclear threat through engagement under the right conditions, but he will not hold talks for the sake of talks.
President Moon, for his part, is committed to seeking dialogue with the North.