The Korea Times

Kono to visit Seoul for talks on N. Korea

- By Kim Bo-eun

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono plans to visit Seoul next week for talks on North Korea amid growing concerns in Tokyo the Shinzo Abe government is being sidelined in negotiatio­ns over North Korea’s denucleari­zation.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said negotiatio­ns are taking place between the two sides to arrange Kono’s visit following Japanese media reports that the government­s of the two states are arranging for Kono to make a two-day visit to Seoul.

“The foreign ministries are discussing the visit, but nothing has been fixed yet,” ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said.

The visit was reportedly brought up during the phone call between Kono and his South Korean counterpar­t Kang Kyung-wha that took place on Friday.

It will be Kono’s first visit to Seoul since he assumed his position as foreign minister last August. It will be the first visit by a Japanese foreign minister in two years and four months since Kono’s predecesso­r Fumio Kishida came to Seoul to announce the controvers­ial sex slave deal in December 2015.

Kono will likely meet Kang to reaffirm close ties with Seoul ahead of the inter-Korean summit to be held on April 27.

The foreign minister is also expected to bring up the Pyongyang nuclear issue and appeal for the need for Seoul, Tokyo and Washington to continue maximum pressure against the reclusive state, until North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump meet in May.

Kono may request that President Moon Jae-in call for the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals to be resolved at the inter-Korean summit. Two Japanese nationals are presumed to be in Pyongyang. Tokyo is reportedly pushing for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for direct discussion­s about the issue but there has been no visible progress.

Moreover, Kono may request that Seoul carry through on the sex slavery deal. In the deal, the two states agreed to put the long-disputed issue to rest, with Tokyo providing Seoul 1 billion yen in government funds for victims.

However, the deal was criticized for being secretly made without including the victims in the process, and a foreign ministry inspection last year drew the same conclusion. In January, the government stated that it would draw up its own 1 billion yen fund to replace the funds received from Japan, and decide what to do with it after surveying public opinion.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet with Trump from April 17 to 18.

The meeting is seen to have been set after a Pyongyang-Washington meeting was arranged last month, based on concerns of Tokyo being sidelined on discussion­s over North Korea’s denucleari­zation.

Kono’s visit to Seoul is also seen to have been arranged to take place as soon as circumstan­ces allow for the same reason.

Last week, Kim met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. The leaders of China, South Korea and the U.S. have either met or are set to meet with Kim.

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Taro Kono

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