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Japan confirms meeting of PM Abe with South Korea president

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during a joint commissioning ceremony for 5,860 new officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and
South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during a joint commissioning ceremony for 5,860 new officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and South Korea said on Friday that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet South Korean President Park Geun-hye for the first time in a trilateral meeting with the United States next week.

The meeting, on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague, comes amid chilled ties between the Asian neighbors over anger in South Korea that Japanese leaders have not atoned for Japan's wartime aggression, including the use of Korean sex slaves, as well as friction over the ownership of contested islands.

In move to thaw ties with another neighbor, Japan said it had agreed to hold formal talks with North Korea for the first time in more than a year to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, the fate of Japanese citizens abducted decades ago and other bilateral issues.

Abe, Park and U.S. President Barack Obama would discuss nuclear non-proliferation and missile programs, the Japanese and Korean foreign ministries said, in talks on either March 24 or 25.

News reports suggested they were likely to sidestep the issue of wartime history. Both China and Korea suffered under Japanese rule, with parts of China occupied in the 1930s and Korea colonized from 1910 to 1945.

Abe responded to a question at a news conference on Friday morning, saying he was "glad" the leaders would meet, Kyodo news reported.

The three-way meeting will be a partial compromise by Park after Washington pressed Seoul and Tokyo to improve ties ahead of Obama's visit to the region next month.

Last week, Abe acknowledged a previous government apology to "comfort women" forced to serve in wartime military brothels, which was seen in Seoul as a softening of his nationalistic tone.

NORTH KOREA TALKS ALSO PLANNED

The Japanese government also said on Friday it and North Korea will hold high-level talks on March 30-31 in Beijing.

Official meetings have been suspended since December 2012, when North Korea test-launched a long-range missile.

Junichi Ihara, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, will attend the meeting, while senior diplomat Song Il-ho will represent North Korea.

Japan's ties with North Korea have been fraught due to Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang's missile and nuclear projects and Japanese anger over the abduction of its citizens by North Korean agents.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies and said eight of them had died, including Megumi Yokota, who was abducted in 1977 on her way home from school at the age of 13.

Last week, Megumi Yokota's parents for the first time met their 26-year old granddaughter, Kim Eun Gyong, in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, a venue Japanese and North Korean officials often use for unofficial contacts, rekindling hopes for the resolution of the abduction issue.

Megumi Yokota's parents and many others believe their abducted relatives are still alive.

(Reporting by Sophie Knight, Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Ju-min Park in Seoul; Editing by Nick Macfie and Miral Fahmy)

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