(4th LD) Park calls for united response to N. Korean nuclear issue
By Chang Jae-soon
THE HAGUE, March 25 (Yonhap) -- The leaders of South Korea, the United States and Japan on Tuesday stressed the importance of trilateral unity in dealing with North Korea, as they sat together on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague.
"The North Korean nuclear issue poses a grave threat to regional peace and stability and I think it is very important for the international community, including South Korea, the United States and Japan, to fashion a united response," South Korean President Park Geun-hye said at the start of talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Park added it is meaningful itself for the three leaders to meet and discuss the North Korean nuclear issue.
Should Pyongyang take steps toward denuclearization, it will also help resolve the hardships of the North Korean people, she said.
Obama agreed to the need to continue close coordination among the three regional powers, saying it has succeeded in "changing the game" with North Korea.
It has sent a strong signal to Pyongyang that its provocations and threats will be met with a unified response and that the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan is unwavering, and that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable, he added.
In particular, Obama said he expects discussions on specific steps to deepen tripartite cooperation both diplomatically and militarily.
"That includes joint exercises and on missile defense," Obama said.
The Japanese prime minister said it's "extremely important" to continue close trilateral partnerships on the North Korea issue.
"The three countries would like to cooperate so that North Korea will be able to take a positive stance with regard to nuclear and missile issues and also humanitarian issues, such as the separated families of the Republic of Korea (South Korea)," he said.
Their meeting drew keen attention as it marked the first formal talks between Park and Abe since they took office more than a year ago, and it could signal a thaw in relations between Seoul and Tokyo, which have frayed badly over issues related to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea.
They all were in The Hague for the Nuclear Security Summit, a biennial gathering that brought together leaders from 53 countries and four international organizations to discuss ways to prevent nuclear terrorism and make the world safer without nuclear weapons.
Ahead of their meeting, South Korean officials said topics would be limited to the North Korean nuclear standoff and nuclear nonproliferation, and will not include historical or other bilateral matters.
"Most discussions in the three-way summit will likely be on the North Korean nuclear issue," presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters. "The leaders are expected to assess the current situation and exchange in-depth views on how to achieve North Korea's denuclearization."
Park has shunned a summit with Abe as Japan kept angering South Korea with a series of nationalistic steps and remarks denounced as attempts to glorify its militaristic past and whitewash its wartime atrocities, including the country's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo had been bad even before Park and Abe became leaders. Their meeting in the Dutch city marked the first summit between the two countries in nearly two years, an unusually long break that shows how badly ties have been strained.
Tuesday's meeting was set up after Abe promised earlier this month to honor Japan's two previous apologies for the colonial rule -- known as the "Kono Statement" and the "Murayama Statement." Park welcomed the pledge, saying she hopes it will lead to better ties between the two countries.
On Sunday, however, a special adviser to Abe, Koichi Hagiuda, angered South Korea again by suggesting that Japan replace the "Kono statement" with a new one if it finds any new evidence on the sexual slavery. Seoul denounced the remark as "very inappropriate" and "very regrettable."
Japan's government said Monday the country remains committed to upholding the 1993 statement.
Improvement in relations between South Korea and Japan would resolve one of the U.S.'s headaches in Asia. Washington has pressured Seoul and Tokyo to come to terms with each other as it seeks to expand security cooperation with its Asian allies in part to keep a rising China in check.
The U.S. wants to see Seoul and Tokyo improve relations ahead of Obama's Asia trip next month.
In an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, Park said it was good for Abe to promise to uphold the apology statements, but Japan should do more to demonstrate its sincerity, including resolving the sexual slavery issue.
"I think that what is important now is sincerity," Park said in the interview published Tuesday ahead of her state visit to Germany. "The Japanese government should take sincere measures to rebuild mutual trust."
Park also said that she proposed making a joint history textbook among Northeast Asian nations to overcome history rows, just as Germany and other nations did after World War II, but the proposal has since made no progress.
She also urged Japan to learn from Germany and make greater efforts to reconcile with its neighbors.