Abe's Yasukuni visit not constructive: U.S. envoy

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy said Thursday that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit in December to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo was not constructive for the East Asian region.

"I think anything that distracts from all the positive work that we do together and makes the regional climate more difficult is something that is not as constructive moving forward because we really need to keep looking forward," Kennedy said in an interview aired by Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

Meanwhile, the first female U.S. ambassador to Tokyo called on Japan and South Korea to mend their relations, which have soured over a territorial dispute and differing perceptions of history.

Calling Japan and South Korea "the two closest United States allies in the region," Kennedy said "these good relations are in everyone's interest."

"I think that the two countries really should and will take a lead in this process, and the United States, being a close ally of both of them, is happy to help in any way that we can," she said.

Abe has not held formal talks with South Korean President Park Geun Hye since she came to power in February 2013.

Japan and South Korea are at odds over disputed islets that are controlled by South Korea but claimed by Japan as well as the issue of "comfort women" who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels during World War II.

Abe's visit in December to the Shinto shrine, which is seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism by other Asian countries, as well as his indication of a possible review of a Japanese government statement on the issue of wartime sex slavery has further exacerbated Japan's relations with South Korea.