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S. Korea invites former 'comfort woman' to state banquet with Trump

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- South Korea has invited a former "comfort woman" who has spoken widely of her suffering during World War II to attend a state banquet to be hosted for U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday.

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in's office made the announcement before his talks in Seoul with Trump, who arrived earlier in the day from Tokyo as part of his five-nation Asian tour.

    The invitation of the 88-year-old Korean woman, Lee Yong-soo, to the banquet may complicate South Korea's relations with Japan and their joint efforts with the United States to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

    Japan and South Korea reached an agreement aimed at "finally and irreversibly" settling the so-called comfort women issue in 2015.

    The dinner menu also includes a dish using "Dokdo shrimps" which come from waters around a pair of islets at the center of a territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea.

    The South Korea-controlled, Japan-claimed islets are known as Takeshima in Japan.

    Japanese government officials will likely be puzzled over South Korea's decision to raise such thorny political issues during Trump's event at a time when ties between Tokyo and Seoul have been improving.

    Trump is the first sitting U.S. leader in 25 years to come to Seoul in the format of a "state visit."

    Lee is one of about 70 guests the South Korean side has invited to the banquet and she will be sitting at the same table with White House Communications Director Hope Hicks and others, according to Moon's office.

    In addition to visiting foreign countries to talk about her grim experience, Lee has criticized the Japanese government and South Korea's previous administration for striking the deal on the issue, a protracted sticking point in bilateral relations.

    The dispute over "comfort women" -- a euphemism used in referring to those recruited mostly from Asian countries to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during the war -- has been one of the major issues that have frayed Tokyo's ties with Seoul.

    Lee and others have slammed the 2015 agreement as not reflecting the feelings of former comfort women.

    Japan has asked Moon's administration to uphold the accord, under which Tokyo provided money to a fund to assist the women and Seoul promised it would strive to settle the issue in consultation with civil society organizations at home.


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