During their strategic dialogue, Vice Foreign Minister Ahn Ho-young and Deputy Secretary William J. Burns explored ways to maintain security on the Korean Peninsula, with an emphasis on keeping North Korea in check ahead of both countries' presidential elections, the ministry officials said.
"The two countries agreed to maintain common approaches to the North and give consistent messages to it to prevent its possible provocation at a time of leadership changes," said a senior foreign ministry official in Seoul, requesting anonymity. He attended the bilateral talks.
Burns arrived in Seoul on Monday after a two-day trip to Tokyo.
South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Ahn Ho-young (R) shakes hands with U.S. Deputy Secretary William J. Burns ahead of the strategic talks in Seoul on Oct. 16, 2012. During the talks, the allies discussed ways to maintain security on the Korean Peninsula and to resolve recent terrritorial spats in Northeast Asia. (Yonhap)
Conflicts between Seoul and Tokyo over territorial and historical issues were also an agenda item, according to the Seoul officials.
"Vice Minister Ahn explained to Burns that Dokdo is undisputedly South Korea's territory in historical and diplomatic aspects, and Burns listened to him carefully," the official said.
"Stressing that the trilateral relationship among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo is crucial to deter North Korea, Burns expressed concerns over recent unstable situations in Northeast Asia caused by territorial and other sensitive issues, and said he hopes to bring the temperature of the region down through dialogue," he said.
After his meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba on Monday, Burns also said, "What the U.S. government supports is an approach that is focused on dialogue," according to a transcript of his remarks released by his department.
Tension has run high between the two neighbors in recent months following South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's unprecedented visit to the country's easternmost islets of Dokdo in mid-August, which Japan has also laid claim to.
South Korea regained independence after the 1910 to 1945 Japanese colonial rule and reclaimed sovereignty over its territory. Japan's territorial claim to Dokdo is viewed by Koreans as a sign Tokyo has not fully repented for its imperialist past.
The two countries are also at odds over the issue of "comfort women," as Japan has persistently refused to apologize or offer compensation for the wartime coercion.
Up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were forced to become sex slaves, colloquially known as comfort women, at Japanese military brothels during World War II, according to historians. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule at that time.
"Over the past five years, the two sides have developed a comprehensive strategic alliance by strengthening relations in a wide range of fields including security, economy and culture," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "The two agreed to continue to further their already-strong relations."
The vice minister-level talks between Seoul and Washington began in 2006 as part of the allies' efforts to strengthen cooperation on a broader spectrum of issues with mid-to-long term perspectives, according to Seoul's foreign ministry. The two sides agreed to hold the fifth round of the strategic talks in Washington next year, it added.
Burns will leave Seoul later in the day and head to China to hold bilateral talks with his Chinese counterpart the following day, according to the U.S. State Department.