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Abe, S. Korean leader's envoy agree to resume 'shuttle diplomacy'

Moon Hee-sang, left, special envoy of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, hands a personal letter from the new leader to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the latter's office in Tokyo on May 18, 2017. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a special envoy of new South Korean President Moon Jae In agreed Thursday to resume "shuttle diplomacy" between the two leaders, according to the envoy.

    Abe and Moon Hee Sang, a heavyweight lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party, also agreed to build a future-oriented bilateral relationship, with the Japanese leader noting Tokyo and Seoul are each other's "most important neighbors, sharing strategic interests" during the meeting in the prime minister's office in Tokyo.

    The shuttle diplomacy, which sees the leaders visit each other's countries roughly every year, has been suspended since December 2011 under the administration of then President Lee Myung Bak.

    The envoy handed over a letter from President Moon, saying the new South Korean leader hopes to meet with Abe in person soon and restart the shuttle diplomacy.

    The two leaders could hold their first face-to-face talks in July on the margins of a summit of Group of 20 major economies in Germany.

    On North Korea, which test-fired its latest ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan over the weekend, Abe said Japan, South Korea and the United States should increase pressure on the reclusive country.

    The envoy said at the outset of the meeting, which was open to the media, that the two countries "have in common a practical interest to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue."

    Abe and the lawmaker also took up a 2015 bilateral agreement on Korean "comfort women," under which the two countries confirmed the longstanding dispute over Korean women forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels is "resolved finally and irreversibly."

    The prime minister said the agreement should be "properly managed," according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

    President Moon, who took office last week, repeatedly vowed during his election campaign to renegotiate the agreement, which was reached under his predecessor's administration and drew criticism that it does not reflect the former comfort women's wishes.

    In accordance with the terms of the deal, Tokyo disbursed 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) last year to a South Korean fund to provide support for former comfort women and their families.

    During the talks, Abe also referred to a protest lodged Wednesday by Tokyo with Seoul after a South Korean research vessel was spotted operating in Japan's exclusive economic zone west of the Takeshima islets without obtaining Tokyo's consent, according to a Japanese government source.

    The pair of rocky islets, known as Dokdo by South Korea, is controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo.

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