WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Thursday she hoped her three-way summit next month with China and Japan would help clear obstacles to better relations with Tokyo and boost stability in Northeast Asia.
Speaking on a visit to Washington, Park also said she was open to a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but stressed the importance of progress on the issue of comfort women forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels.
“I do feel I can have such a meeting with him,” Park, who is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“But in order for such a meeting to be really significant, I think it’s important that the two countries be able to move towards a more future-oriented change in our relationship ... a meeting that does lead to progress on this (comfort women) issue can be characterized as a meaningful meeting.”
Park and Abe have not held bilateral talks since taking office, given festering historical disputes, particularly over comfort women. South Korea says Japan has not done enough to atone for their suffering despite a 1993 apology.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean presidential official saying earlier on Thursday that more consultations were needed to allow a bilateral summit with Abe to take place.
Park said the trilateral summit would be held in Seoul in early November, after a gap of 3-1/2-years.
“It will be an important occasion to pursue peace and stability in northeast Asia, as well as to improve Korea-Japan relations,” she said.
“I hope this trilateral summit will provide an opportunity to clear away obstacles hindering bilateral ties and to hold sincere discussions on the way forward towards a common future.”
The United States is keen to encourage better relations between South Korea and Japan, its two biggest allies in Asia, given concerns about North Korea and an increasingly assertive China.
Park said it was important to maintain firmness and coordination in response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and to make “newly consolidated efforts” among the United States, South Korea and China in dealing with North Korean issues.
Park has worked to warm ties with China and raised some eyebrows in Washington when she attended Beijing’s military parade to mark the end of World War Two last month.
However, the senior U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, said on Wednesday the United States welcomed improved ties between Seoul and Beijing.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sandra Maler and Alan Crosby