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Abe, Moon affirm 'pressure' stance on N. Korea ahead of Olympics

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, during their meeting in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 9, 2018. (Kim Hong-ji/Pool Photo via AP)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he and South Korean President Moon Jae In affirmed their shared stance of heightening pressure on North Korea in talks Friday ahead of the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

    While preparations for the Pyeongchang Games have involved dialogue and displays of unity between the two Koreas, Abe said he and Moon reiterated that there is a need to continue to press the North over its nuclear weapons and missile development, as agreed between Japan and the United States.

    "North Korea must recognize that the strong ties between Japan, the United States and South Korea will never waver," he told reporters after the meeting with Moon.

    "We need all U.N. member states to strictly enforce Security Council resolutions and raise pressure to the maximum degree until North Korea (agrees to) change its policies and comes to us seeking dialogue," he said.

    The meeting comes amid signs of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula ahead of the Olympics. Moon is pursuing denuclearization of the peninsula through inter-Korea dialogue, and is using the opportunity of the international sports event to promote this policy.

    After North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un extended an olive branch in his New Year's address, the North and South resumed official talks and agreed to form a joint women's ice hockey team and march together under a unified flag at the opening ceremony.

    Earlier Friday, Pyongyang's high-level delegation including Kim Jong Un's younger sister Kim Yo Jong and its ceremonial leader Kim Yong Nam arrived in South Korea. The two are scheduled to hold talks with Moon on Saturday.

    Tokyo and Washington believe that through dialogue with Seoul, Pyongyang is aiming to buy time to develop its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and drive a wedge between the three countries.

    The North has stopped its provocations since launching an intercontinental ballistic missile in November. But speculation is growing it might fire a missile if South Korea and the United States resume joint military drills after the Paralympics in March.

    On the eve of the opening ceremony, the North carried out a massive military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army and demonstrated what appeared to be ICBMs.

    Abe and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is also in South Korea for the opening event, agreed Wednesday in Tokyo to reaffirm with Moon their stance of maximizing pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.

    Abe also said he told Moon of Japan's stance on the issue of the "comfort women" who were forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels, following South Korea's recent policy shift over a 2015 bilateral agreement to settle the dispute "finally and irreversibly."

    "We shared the recognition that we must build future-oriented Japan-South Korea relations," Abe said without elaborating further on Moon's response.

    Tokyo and Seoul have been at odds over the comfort women issue since the Moon administration announced in January its new policy on the agreement, which was signed under his predecessor Park Geun Hye.

    While describing the deal as "seriously flawed," Moon has said Seoul will not seek to renegotiate it, expressing hope for a fresh Japanese apology to the victims.

    Under the deal, Japan paid 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) to a foundation to support the victims and Abe expressed his "most sincere apologies and remorse" to them. South Korea, meanwhile, said it "will strive to resolve" the issue of a statue symbolizing comfort women in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

    Abe, who cited the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics as one of the reasons for his Pyeongchang visit, will cheer on Japanese athletes on Saturday before returning home. He initially expressed doubt about accepting Seoul's invitation to attend the opening ceremony.

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