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Wednesday, November 06, 2019, 17:08
US diplomat: Moon-Abe meet is 'encouraging sign' for ties
By Reuters
Wednesday, November 06, 2019, 17:08 By Reuters

In this photo provided by the ROK Presidential Blue House, the ROK President Moon Jae-in, center right, talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center left, ahead of the ASEAN+3 Summit in Nonthaburi, Thailand, Nov 4, 2019. (PHOTO / THE ROK PRESIDENTIAL BLUE HOUSE VIA AP)

SEOUL — The United States was very encouraged by a recent meeting between the leaders of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan, a top US diplomat said on Wednesday, as strained ties threatened to undercut three-way security cooperation on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

US Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell arrived in Seoul as relations between Seoul & Tokyo, key US allies, have plunged to their worst state in decades after the ROK’s top court ordered Japanese firms to compensate wartime forced labourers last year

US Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell arrived in Seoul on Tuesday as relations between the ROK and Japan, key US allies, have plunged to their worst state in decades after the ROK’s top court ordered Japanese firms to compensate wartime forced labourers last year.

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But the ROK President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had an 11-minute conversation on the sidelines of an international conference in Bangkok on Monday, also attended by US officials, the first time they had met in more than a year.

“Very encouraged while we were there to note that President Moon and Prime minister Abe had the opportunity to talk,” Stilwell told reporters after meetings with the ROK officials. “That’s an encouraging sign as we watch the relationship improve.”

His visit came as an intelligence-sharing pact between the ROK and Japan is set to expire this month. Seoul decided not to renew the agreement, known as GSOMIA, amid a spiralling political and trade row, a decision that Washington has criticised.

Stilwell met with the ROK Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young, but did not respond to a question on whether they discussed the situation.

The ROK's foreign ministry said Kang explained efforts to craft a “reasonable solution” to the feud with Japan.

“The US side said those efforts are encouraging and agreed that such efforts should continue going forward,” the ministry said in a statement.

Stilwell met the ROK’s deputy national security adviser Kim Hyun-chong and hey had “detailed, constructive and forward-looking” discussions on the GSOMIA, defense cost-sharing talks and other issues, the ROK’s presidential Blue House said in a statement.

December summit?

The ROK and the United States are also expected to discuss how to reinvigorate stalled denuclearization talks between the United States and the DPRK.

Envoys from the United States and the DPRK met in Stockholm last month for the first time since US President Donald Trump and the DPRK leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to reopen negotiations after a failed summit in Vietnam in February.

But the meeting in Sweden broke down, with the DPRK’s envoy saying the US side failed to show flexibility.

They could hold another round of talks as soon as mid-November as Kim set sights on a summit with Trump in December, a ROK lawmaker said on Monday after being briefed by a spy agency.

As Stilwell’s meetings were under way, a group of activists rallied in front of the ministry building, deriding what they called a US attempt to “squeeze” the ROK over the GSOMIA decision and defense cost-sharing talks.

James DeHart, the US representative in the negotiations, designed to determine how costs are divided for the upkeep of 28,500 US troops in the ROK, was also in Seoul.

A survey by the government-affiliated Korea Institute for National Unification released on Wednesday showed that some 96% of ROK citizens said the ROK should not pay more for the US military presence, while 72% supported the decision to end the GSOMIA.

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The lack of progress in the nuclear talks has also cast a pall over inter-Korean cooperation, stalled after a flurry of summits last year.

Kim last week vowed to remove the ROK’s “shabby”, “capitalist” facilities from the DPRK’s Mount Kumgang resort, once a symbol of cross-border rapprochement.

The ROK’s Unification Ministry, which is in charge of inter-Korean ties, said it had proposed sending a delegation of officials from the government and companies that built the facilities for an inspection, after the DPRK rejected its offer of talks.

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