Japan foreign minister, S. Korea envoy agree to work toward summit

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has agreed with the South Korean ambassador to Japan to step up efforts to arrange a bilateral meeting between the countries' leaders, a Japanese government source said Tuesday.

During a meeting in Tokyo on Monday night, Kishida told the ambassador, Lee Byung Kee, he hopes that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye will be able to meet on the fringes of a series of international meetings in September and October, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

Lee reportedly said he would relay the message to Seoul.

Abe and Park have yet to hold a face-to-face meeting due to heightened tensions between the two countries over a territorial dispute and interpretations of Japan's conduct during its 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

As part of efforts to arrange an Abe-Park summit, Junichi Ihara, who heads the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, will visit Seoul on Thursday and Friday.

Ihara is expected to discuss bilateral issues and North Korea with his South Korean counterparts, including Cho Tae Yong, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, according to the ministry.

In Monday's meeting, Lee conveyed to Kishida Seoul's positive evaluation of Abe's decision not to visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II in 1945.

Yasukuni, which enshrines 14 Class-A war criminals along with Japan's war dead, is considered by neighboring countries, particularly China and South Korea, to be a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

The ambassador said it was regrettable that in his speech on the anniversary, Abe omitted Tokyo's usual expression of remorse for the suffering Japan had caused to people in other Asian countries, according to the source.

Kishida is believed to have called for Seoul's understanding over the matter, likely arguing that the Abe government does not view Japan's wartime conduct any differently from previous governments.

Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki and Ihara also attended the meeting.