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International relations

Japan's new US envoy eyes removal of 'comfort women' statues

Shinsuke Sugiyama also seeks tighter cooperation on North Korea and economy

Shinsuke Sugiyama, Japan's new ambassador to the U.S.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan's incoming ambassador to the U.S. looks to convince American cities to remove statues commemorating wartime "comfort women," and to strengthen dialogue with the American government, he told reporters here Thursday.

Shinsuke Sugiyama, former vice foreign minister, will assume the post in late March. One of his first tasks will be to "travel around the U.S. and explain the Japanese government's position in person," he said.

The U.S. government has voiced support for a 2015 accord between Japan and South Korea declaring the comfort women issue "finally and irreversibly" settled. But "despite Japan's best efforts," the results of the deal "have not been what we expected," Sugiyama said.

Though South Korea agreed to explore removing a statue of a young girl memorializing comfort women that sits in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, it remains in place. Similar statues have been installed around the world, including in front of the Japanese Consulate in Busan, South Korea, and other locations in the U.S. and elsewhere. Osaka decided in November to end its sister-city relationship with San Francisco over a comfort women statue in the American city.

"Japan's position is extremely logical and just," Sugiyama said, and must be "communicated more strongly" than it has been in the past.

As for North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons development, "it is hard to say things are headed toward a resolution -- in fact, the situation is worsening," Sugiyama said. Japan, the U.S. and South Korea must present a united front to make progress on the issue, he explained. The new ambassador maintained that the North's denuclearization is a prerequisite for dialogue, but allowed that "it is only natural that a number of dialogues and negotiations will be held in the end."

Sugiyama also looks to strengthen U.S.-Japan economic ties, "deepening discussions" in the context of an ongoing dialogue on trade and investment between Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and American Vice President Mike Pence. "My job is to create closer consultation with the U.S. government" by connecting with key players in President Donald Trump's administration and Congress, Sugiyama said.

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