SEOUL - Seoul and Tokyo on Wednesday began their first director-general-level meeting on the issue of Korean victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery as they struggled to mend their strained ties.
Lee Sang-deok, the director general for Northeast Asian affairs at Seoul's Foreign Ministry, and Junichi Ihara, the director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at Tokyo's Foreign Ministry, discussed the issue of the so-called comfort women, which has long weighed on bilateral relations.
They agreed to hold a follow-up meeting in Japan next month, Seoul officials said.
The rare meeting came as Japanese media reported that Tokyo had conveyed to Seoul its desire to settle the issue within this year.
Japan's Kyodo News said Wednesday that Tokyo is considering taking "humanitarian measures" in consideration of a set of measures that its preceding Noda administration discussed with Seoul from 2011-2012.
The news outlet quoted a Tokyo official as saying that Japan had requested that the two sides settle the issue and put the relationship back on track ahead of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations next year.
The measures being discussed include Tokyo's offer of monetary support to the victims, the two leaders' affirmation of bilateral efforts to resolve the issue, a Japanese ambassador's apology, the delivery of a letter under Abe's name to console the victims and the creation of a special fund for the victims, according to the media
But such measures might not satisfy the Seoul government, which claims that Tokyo should take "legal" responsibility for the wartime sexual enslavement of the women and officially apologize to the victims.
Tokyo has long argued that the issue was already covered under a bilateral pact in 1965 to settle financial reparations for Japan's colonization of Korea from 1910-45. Seoul maintains that the comfort women issue is a humanitarian one that should be dealt with separately from the pact.
Japanese conservatives have claimed that there is no clear evidence that sex slaves were forcibly mobilized by their military. They stress that civilian entities were to blame for the crime, turning a deaf ear to the victims' calls for an apology and compensation. Historians put the number of victims at around 200,000.