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Trump says ready to mediate Japan-S. Korea row if requested

This combined photo shows, from left, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump. (Kyodo)

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday he is ready to help reduce tensions between Japan and South Korea over trade and wartime labor disputes if the two allies seek help from Washington.

Noting the trade tension between the two countries, Trump told reporters, "It's like a fulltime job getting involved between Japan and South Korea...If they need me, I'm there."

Trump revealed that South Korean President Moon Jae In had asked him to help resolve the tensions.

"I like both leaders," Trump said. "I like President Moon. And you know how I feel about Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe. He's a very special guy."

"Hopefully they can work it out. But they do have tension, there's no question about it, trade tension," he added.

The sharp deterioration of ties between Tokyo and Seoul has been a headache for Washington as trilateral cooperation is seen as vital in pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

The two countries are at odds over South Korean court decisions ordering Japanese companies to give monetary compensation to victims of forced labor during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

In response, the companies -- including Nippon Steel Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. -- have refused to comply, based on Japan's stance that South Korea waived any right to compensation under a 1965 accord accompanying a treaty that set up diplomatic relations between the countries.

Japan's recent tightening of rules on exports of key materials used by South Korean chipmakers has also aggravated bilateral relations. Reflecting the soured ties, Abe and Moon did not hold one-on-one talks on the fringes of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in late June.

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