Comfort women: Closure on thorny issue will come down to political will

SEOUL - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe let out a small sigh of relief as he walked into the elevator of the Lotte Hotel in Seoul after addressing the press Monday afternoon.

He had just ended his first meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and was generally pleased with the outcome. Their talk lasted an hour and 45 minutes, the first hour of which was dedicated mostly to the wartime "comfort women" issue. Despite it being the thorniest matter lying between the two countries, "there wasn't a single moment when either side got emotional," according to a Japanese official who was there.

The words exchanged between the leaders were positive. Whether that feel-good atmosphere evolves into real-world results will ultimately come down to the political will of Abe and Park.

There were three new elements to Abe's stance when he met Park at the presidential Blue House. First, he said he wanted to "settle the issue as soon as possible," which is a shift from the Japanese government's official stance that the issue has already been settled.

He also pointed out that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of the Japan-South Korea relationship, and that "with that anniversary in mind, we agreed to accelerate negotiations" for a settlement. Park had been signaling in interviews leading up to the meeting that she wanted a settlement by the end of the year.

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