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Thursday, Dec. 28, 2006

THORNY ISSUES PUT ASIDE

Aso, Song maintain unity on N. Korea


Staff writer

Putting aside thorny bilateral issues, the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers met Wednesday in Tokyo and agreed to "closely cooperate" on seeking an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, a Foreign Ministry official said.

During their meeting, South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Song Min Soon also proposed that he and Taro Aso hold meetings as often as possible, asking the foreign minister to visit Seoul soon, according to the official who briefed reporters.

Aso said he will visit South Korea at a convenient time, the official said.

Tokyo-Seoul ties suffered from a variety of thorny disputes while Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, was in office, particularly those involving history.

But according to Foreign Ministry officials, Song and Aso largely set aside those touchy bilateral issues during their meeting.

The two ministers instead agreed it is "regrettable" that the North refused to hold substantive discussions on its denuclearization during the six-party talks last week in Beijing.

The two also agreed that Japan and South Korea "should closely cooperate" on getting North Korea to implement a September 2005 joint statement under which it pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic assistance.

Song and Aso did not discuss issues related to Japanese politicians' visits to Yasukuni Shrine, according to the Foreign Ministry official.

Song only told Aso he is interested in a recent media report that Yasukuni has decided to revise some of the details in the permanent exhibitions in the war museum within the shrine's compound, the official said.

Aso told Song the government respects the autonomy of the shrine as an independent religious body.

Song, who took his post Dec. 1, succeeds Ban Ki Moon, who is to become U.N. secretary general on Jan. 1.

Prior to the talks, Aso and Song exchanged ratification documents for a bilateral treaty to promote mutual cooperation on criminal investigations and court proceedings.

The treaty was concluded last January to cope with recent increases in international crime.

The treaty allows law-enforcement officials in the two countries to cooperate directly in criminal investigations without going through diplomatic channels.



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