S. Korea, Japan high-level talks, agree to coordinate on N. Korea

Japanese and South Korean vice foreign ministers agreed Wednesday at talks in Seoul on the importance of their two governments coordinating on matters relating to North Korea, a Japanese official said.

The one-day talks between Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki and his South Korean counterpart Cho Tae Yong were held at a time when bilateral relations remain strained over a territorial dispute and divergent perceptions of their shared history.

The official said the two vice ministers, who met at the Foreign Ministry in central Seoul, also discussed the current state of bilateral ties and how to move them forward.

Saiki is believed to have sounded out Cho on the prospect of Japan and South Korea holding a trilateral summit with the United States later this month when their leaders attend an international conference on nuclear security in the Netherlands.

But it was not immediately clear if he did so.

It also remains unclear if South Korean President Park Geun Hye is prepared to sit down at the table with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, given his government's stance on the issue of wartime sex slavery involving Korean women. South Korea has made it clear that the Japanese government must first address historical issues before a bilateral summit can take place.

If a trilateral summit is realized, it would be the first since Abe resumed the premiership in December 2012.

Wednesday's talks were the highest-level bilateral talks since Abe's controversial Dec. 26 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class-A war criminals along with the war dead.

The last time vice foreign ministers of the two neighbors met was in July last year.

Ties between South Korea and Japan have been severely strained since Abe came to office amid quarrels over historical issues surrounding Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea and a territorial dispute over a pair of islets in the Sea of Japan controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo.