Moon Strikes Conciliatory Note with Japanese Special Envoy

Su Jin Jang, June 13, 2017, 9:40 a.m.

President Moon Jae-in said on Monday told an envoy from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that "most Koreans" find it hard to accept a deal on the victims of wartime sexual slavery struck by the previous administration.

But Moon added the issue "should not keep plaguing Korea and Japan and prevent them from seeking progress on other issues." Moon was meeting Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary-general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday.

"Above anything else, the sex slavery victims aren't accepting it. The two countries should face this squarely and understand together that we need more time," Moon said.

Under the deal, Tokyo paid W1 billion in indirect compensation to women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II but dodged admitting direct responsibility.

The party line of Abe's increasingly chauvinistic government is that the women were drafted by private contractors rather than, as the evidence shows, at direct orders from the top.

According to Cheong Wa Dae, Nikai avoided a direct answer given the sensitivity of the issue but said, "Let's try together." He expressed hopes that the two countries will not entangle themselves in "trivial matters" preventing other developments in their ties.

Moon called for regular "shuttle diplomacy" to resume, whereby the two heads of government take turns visiting each other every year. He also expressed the hope to meet Abe at the G20 summit in July and hold a bilateral summit as soon as possible.

Nikai handed over a letter from Abe calling for heavier pressure and tougher sanctions on North Korea to achieve the complete dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program, and asking for South Korea to implement its side of the sex slavery agreement.

This involved mainly removing statues honoring the victims from the vicinity of Japanese diplomatic missions, but the government says it has no power to do that since they were set up by private charities.

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