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International relations

Abe to attend opening ceremony at South Korean Olympics

Japanese PM will meet President Moon to discuss 'comfort women' and North Korea

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, plans to attend the Pyeongchang Olympics next month and meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Abe told reporters on Wednesday.

During his visit, Abe will also meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and is expected to demand that he implement an agreement the two countries reached over the wartime "comfort women" issue at the end of 2015.

Seoul had been urging Abe to attend but he put off the decision, saying he needed to consider the schedule of this year's regular Diet session, which opened Monday.

"Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics in 2020 and it is worth attending games being held in other parts of Asia and supporting the athletes," Abe said in announcing his decision. Regarding the talks with Moon, Abe said: "I would like to take the opportunity to firmly convey Japan's stance on the 2015 agreement."

During the talks with Moon, Abe is expected to explain how Japan has faithfully implemented the 2015 accord and demand that South Korea act in accordance with the agreement. Abe earlier this month said South Korea's calls for additional measures to address the comfort women issue, including an apology, are "totally unacceptable."

The talks will also likely reaffirm the two countries' commitment to maintaining pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs. Abe said he will call for recognizing the "need for close cooperation among Japan, South Korea and the U.S. over the North Korean threat and maintaining the pressure on Pyongyang, which has been raised to the maximum extent."

South Korea has decided to halt joint military exercises with the U.S. until the games end. But Abe may warn Moon not to let the festive mood persuade him to jump on an offer of dialogue with the North.

By attending the Pyeongchang Games, Abe is signaling his desire for cooperation from South Korea on the 2020 Summer Olympics, which Tokyo will host. Shunichi Suzuki, Japan's minister in charge of the 2020 Games, will also attend the opening ceremony.

Following Abe's announcement, South Korea's presidential office said Wednesday that it "welcomes Japan's decision to officially announce the visit."

The possibility of Abe's attendance caused friction within his government after Moon said recently that the 2015 agreement does not settle the comfort women issue. Japan has warned that Seoul's change of heart undermines the principle that the deal was meant to "finally and irreversibly" settle the long unresolved dispute.

On the other hand, some members of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party supported Abe's travel to Pyeongchang, arguing that sports and politics should be separate. Others worried that Tokyo would not be able to ask Seoul to cooperate on the 2020 Tokyo Games if Abe did not attend.

(Nikkei)

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