SEOUL • Senior diplomats from South Korea and Japan met yesterday to prepare for talks between their foreign ministers to settle a row over wartime sex slaves which has long strained relations.
The two countries have been pushing to improve relations since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met President Park Geun Hye last month. That meeting took place partly under pressure from Washington, which is keen to see its two allies get along.
Mr Kimihiro Ishikane, director-general of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, met his South Korean counterpart Lee Sang Deok. The two officials have held more than 10 rounds of meetings since April last year to find common ground on resolving the issue.
The meeting is seen as preparation for Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida's visit and meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se today.
Ms Park and Mr Abe had pledged in November to seek "the earliest possible resolution" to the issue, noting that this was the 50th year of their diplomatic relations.
Japan has said there was no change to its stance that the matter of compensation was settled by a 1965 treaty. However, the Nikkei business daily reported that Japan would propose creating a government-backed fund to help former comfort women as part of a possible agreement.
Mr Abe, like many conservative Japanese politicians, had in the past criticised a 1993 apology acknowledging the role of Japanese authorities in coercing the women. As prime minister, he has said he stands by the statement.
South Korea has demanded fresh steps by the Japanese government that it said should be acceptable by the surviving former comfort women and the public, without specifying what was needed.
Tokyo wants assurances any resolution to the feud that might be reached will be final, Japanese government sources have said.