Seoul and Tokyo are set for a fresh round of talks aimed at resolving their row over Japan's sexual slavery involving Korean women during World War II in an effort to narrow their historical differences and improve bilateral ties.
Lee Sang-deok, director-general for Northeast Asian affairs at the Foreign Ministry here, is slated to meet with Junichi Ihara, director-general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at Japan's Foreign Ministry, on Monday in Tokyo. Launched last April, the consultations will be their sixth session.
With Korea regarding the issue's resolution as essential for a rapprochement, Japan acceded to the first-of-its-kind meeting ahead of a trilateral summit between President Park Geun-hye, US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
But the two sides appear to have since made little progress given stark differences in their stances, with some Seoul officials saying that the negotiations were only "backpedaling" amid Abe's revisionist push.
Seoul has been demanding an official, sincere apology and compensation for the victims, while Tokyo claims the issue was settled in a 1965 agreement that restored their relations.
Korea is expected to once again press for a breakthrough as the two countries mark the 50th anniversary of normalized ties this year.
"The issue of the so-called comfort women is a humanitarian one concerning wartime violence against women, and we're hoping for an early resolution given the old ages of the victims," presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters Friday.
On Thursday, a group of lawmakers led by Rep. Suh Chung-won, a longtime confidant of Park and senior member of the ruling Saenuri Party, met with Abe in Tokyo. They delivered the president's message that this year would hopefully provide a chance for the two countries to "make a fresh start."
Abe, in response, expressed his sympathy for the victims and said he upholds a 1993 apology issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
But the nationalist leader stopped short of indicating a resolve to put an end to the longstanding dispute with concrete measures, expressing regret that the issue was becoming "politicized."
Up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, are believed to have been forced to provide sex to Japanese troops in frontline brothels during the war.
Of the 237 Korean women who have come forward as former sex slaves, 55 are still alive.