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Abe promises S. Korea talks on 'comfort women'

Japan has agreed with South Korea to "accelerate talks" on so-called "comfort women" abused in wartime Japanese military brothels. The move at a rare summit in Seoul follows decades of bitter relations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerged from Monday talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye saying Tokyo wanted "earliest possible resolution" of the issue.

Former imperial Japan occupied the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until its World War Two defeat in 1945. Korean women were forced to act as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers.

South Korea's presidential Blue House said Park, who has taken a strong line on compensation since taking office in 2013, and Abe had agreed to "quickly resolve the comfort women question."

Japan had previously maintained that matters were settled in a 1965 normalization agreement, which saw Tokyo pay 725 million euros ($800 million) in grants or loans to its former colony.

South Koreans remained inconsolable on suspicions that Abe and past Japanese leaders had failed to atone properly for wartime aggression.

Monday's encounter (pictured above) was the first formal two-way meeting between the leaders since Abe took office in late 2012 and Park in early 2013.

Maritime strains

Abe said he and Park had also discussed

tensions in the South China Sea

.

In recent years, Japan and China have jostled over uninhabited islands while Beijing also pressed territorial claims over maritime areas administered by US allies, notably the Philippines.

Last Tuesday, a US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of a Chinese man-made island in a challenge to territorial limits claimed by Beijing.

Monday's Park-Abe meeting, which lasted somewhat less than two hours, followed a

three-way summit on Sunday

in Seoul that also involved China's premier, Li Keqiang - the first meeting of its kind in more than three years.

Despite strains, the Asian neighbors have extensive trade ties.

Südkorea Ash Carter und Han Min Koo

North Korea's stance 'grave' say Carter and Kan

Warning to North Korea

Also visiting Seoul, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned that "any North Korean aggression or military provocation is not to be tolerated."

In a statement including South Korea's defense minister, Kan Min-Koo, both said they regarded with "grave concern" strong hints from reclusive North Korea that it was preparing for a long-range rocket launch.

After the meeting in Seoul, Carter left for a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers' meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

ipj/kms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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