Japan, U.S., S. Korea look to hold summit next week in Netherlands

The governments of Japan, the United States and South Korea are planning a possible summit next week in the Netherlands, where their leaders will join an international conference, Japanese sources said Thursday.

It would provide an opportunity for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to hold his first such meeting with South Korean President Park Geun Hye amid bilateral tensions over some historical issues, signaling a chance for the two neighbors to improve their relations, as hoped for by the United States, which has strategic interests in East Asia.

Abe, Park and U.S. President Barack Obama are widely expected to hold talks on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in The Hague, where participants, also including some European leaders, may gather on the margins to discus countermeasures against Russia over its intervention in Ukraine.

The Japanese government announced Abe will attend the summit.

"We have issues to be addressed between Japan and South Korea," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. "But we have also said that high-level political dialogues are necessary only because we are in a difficult situation."

Kishida declined to elaborate the possible trilateral summit in The Hague but said, "We hope South Korea will accept" such dialogues.

A Japanese government source said South Korea has yet to inform Tokyo of its intention to participate in the summit.

Tokyo and Seoul have been at odds over a South-Korean-held, Japan-claimed islets and their differing perceptions of history, including issues stemming from Japan's wartime aggression in the area.

Abe has yet to meet with South Korean leaders since he took office in December 2012. Park assumed the presidency in February 2013.

Like South Korea, China has criticized Abe's perceived right-leaning policies and Abe has also failed so far to hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who took office in March 2013.

Tensions escalated in late December when Abe visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where Class A criminals along with the war dead are enshrined.

The move sparked criticism from the United States as well, as Washington appeared concerned the deteriorating ties between its key allies -- Japan and South Korea -- would affect its strategy in East Asia, where China has been increasingly assertive beyond its borders while North Korea has continued to pursue nuclear and missile development ambitions.

In its relations with South Korea, Japan earlier fueled tensions by indicating it could retract its 1993 apology for forcing Korean women into sexual slavery in military brothels during World War II.

But Abe denied such an intention last week, saying in a Diet session that his government will uphold the so-called Kono statement that apologized over the issue of wartime "comfort women."

Seoul took Abe's message positively, with Park quoted by her spokesman as welcoming Tokyo's assurance, adding to expectations that they would meet in The Hague with help from Obama as a go-between.

The statement of apology was named after the issuer, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.

South Korea has fiercely criticized the plan by Abe's government to review how the statement was compiled, which would involve "verifying" the testimonies of 16 South Korean comfort women that made up the basis for the apology.

The statement acknowledged for the first time the involvement of the military and the use of coercion in recruiting women to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. But some conservative politicians have recently called for the statement to be reviewed, claiming it was based on insufficient evidence.