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Abe leaves for Pyeongchang for talks with Moon, Olympics ceremony

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at the prime minister's office in Tokyo ahead of his departure for South Korea, on Feb. 9, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Tokyo for South Korea on Friday to attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and hold talks with President Moon Jae In to affirm trilateral cooperation with the United States in dealing with North Korea.

    "We would like to send to the world (the message that) cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea is unshakable in the face of North Korea's threats" through the third meeting between the Japanese and South Korean leaders, Abe told reporters before his departure.

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

    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.

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

    The North has suspended its provocations since launching an intercontinental ballistic missile in November. But speculation is growing that 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 foundation of the Korean People's Army and demonstrated what appeared to be ICBMs.

    Abe and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who will also join 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.

    On bilateral relations, Tokyo and Seoul have recently been at odds after the Moon administration announced in January its new policy on the comfort women deal, which was signed under his predecessor Park Geun Hye.

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

    Abe is expected to urge Moon to steadily implement the deal, arguing Japan has been carrying out its promises, Japanese government officials said.

    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 solve" the issue of a statue symbolizing comfort women in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

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


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