TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan and South Korea are making arrangements for their foreign ministers to meet on Sept. 26 on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Japanese government officials said Thursday.
The meeting, if realized, will be an indication that both sides recognize the need to maintain dialogue at the ministerial level despite the recent sharp worsening of ties over wartime history and trade policy that has darkened the outlook for a summit in the near future.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not hold talks with South Korean President Moon Jae In, the Japanese officials said, even though both leaders are expected to be in New York at around the same time for the U.N. gathering next week.
It will be the first time for Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who took over from Taro Kono in early September, to meet face-to-face with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha.
Still, expectations are low that the foreign ministers' meeting will yield a breakthrough, with both Motegi and Kang likely to state the countries' respective positions on the bilateral dispute.
Japan's Foreign Ministry said Shigeki Takizaki, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, will hold a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Kim Jung Han in Tokyo on Friday to exchange views over wartime labor and other issues of "mutual concern."
Japan-South Korea ties, which have worsened drastically since late last year, have shown no signs of improving. The chill stems from a series of court rulings in South Korea that ordered Japanese companies to compensate for wartime labor during the 1910 to 1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
Based on the position that both countries agreed in 1965 to settle the issue of compensation finally and completely, Japan has been urging South Korea to prevent the accord from being undermined.
Tensions have also spiked since Tokyo tightened its controls on some South Korea-bound exports in July and then took Seoul off its list of preferred trading partners, citing security concerns.
South Korea has taken Japan to the World Trade Organization over the stricter export controls and, in a tit-for-tat move, revoked Tokyo's trusted trade partner status effective Wednesday.
"There's no need for the prime minister to meet (with Moon) unless the South Korean side comes up with solutions" to the dispute over wartime labor, a senior administration official said.
A senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said, "We're not in a political situation where we can arrange a summit."
The outlook remains uncertain for an Abe-Moon meeting in the near future even as the leaders could meet late next month when Japan holds a ceremony proclaiming Emperor Naruhito's ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Nearly a year has passed since the previous summit between Abe and Moon was held on the occasion of the U.N. General Assembly in September last year. At the time, they agreed to work toward North Korea's denuclearization.
During his stay in New York, Motegi is also expected to hold his first meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to the officials.
Motegi and Lavrov are likely to make preparations for a pilot tour of Japanese tourists to Kunashiri and Etorofu, two of four disputed islands off Hokkaido, in October.
The foreign ministers will also lay the groundwork for another summit between Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin in November on the fringes of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile, according to the officials.
The long-standing dispute over the four islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from signing a postwar peace treaty.
Abe and Putin agreed to step up negotiations based on a 1956 joint declaration that mentioned the handover by what was then the Soviet Union of the two other islands, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, following the conclusion of a peace treaty.
But the two sides have failed to bridge their differences since. Tokyo believes the Soviet Union illegally seized the islands following Japan's surrender in 1945, while Moscow maintains the islands came into its possession as a result of World War II. In a recent Cabinet reshuffle, Abe entrusted Motegi with the job of advancing the negotiations.