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Koizumi pledges to consider new war memorial: Roh
Updated: 2005-06-21 13:15

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun on Monday that his government will consider building a new national war memorial "while taking public opinion in Japan into account."

Roh quoted Koizumi as making the statement in response to his proposal that Tokyo consider such a new facility in connection with the international row over Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to Japan's war dead but also honors the nation's World War II leaders convicted as war criminals.

However, the two leaders remained apart over Koizumi's Yasukuni visits, according to a Japanese official who briefed reporters.

During the talks, Roh indicated to Koizumi he should stop paying homage at Yasukuni, saying the visits are the core element in the two countries' history-related issues, the official said.

But Koizumi only reiterated his stance that his visits are meant to show his resolve that Japan will never wage war again, the official said.

In a joint news conference at the Blue House presidential office, Roh said his two-hour meeting with Koizumi failed to resolve the differences over historical issues that have hurt bilateral ties in recent months.

Roh said he had an "honest and sincere discussion" with Koizumi during the talks that are believed to have mostly focused on historical issues.

"There were efforts to understand each other and in some areas there was understanding, but there was no agreement," Roh told reporters in the gardens outside the Blue House, where the two leaders spoke in somber tones and refused to take questions.

Relations between Japan and South Korea have soured in recent months with renewed Japanese claims to a set of islets in the Sea of Japan controlled by Seoul, and Tokyo's approval of history textbooks that critics say gloss over Japan's past military aggression and colonial rule of Asian neighbors.

The Korean Peninsula was under Japan's colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine have also triggered angry reactions from South Korea, China and other Asian nations that suffered atrocities at the hands of Japan's wartime troops.

Roh proposed an alternative memorial be built, and said Koizumi responded that the idea would be considered after officials weigh how the move would be seen by the Japanese public.

Koizumi later told Japanese reporters that the two did not discuss the issue of the war memorial during Monday's talks but that the two governments had basically agreed on it beforehand in diplomatic negotiations.

It is not clear whether construction of such a new facility would resolve the disputes over Yasukuni.

Before departing for Seoul in the morning, Koizumi reiterated to reporters in Tokyo that no war memorial, even if a new one is set up, would be a substitute for Yasukuni.

Koizumi considers his visits to the shrine as a separate issue from building a new memorial.

Koizumi and Roh agreed during the summit to launch a second round of joint history studies and to cover the issue of history textbooks under the new round.

The first round was launched in 2002 and ended earlier this year, but experts who took part in the studies did not address the textbook issue.

During the news conference, Koizumi said he "takes to heart" the feelings of South Korean people on their history with Japan and offered humanitarian support to South Korean atomic-bomb victims.

"I told (Roh) that, looking at the past several months in Japan-South Korea relations, I once again take to heart the sentiment of the South Korean people concerning the past," Koizumi said.

Koizumi also said he conveyed to Roh that Japan will provide as much support as possible in terms of the search in Japan for the remains of people from the Korean Peninsula, and assist atomic-bomb survivors living in South Korea.

On North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Koizumi and Roh agreed that Japan, South Korea and the United States will closely cooperate to achieve an early resumption of six-party talks that also involve China and Russia.

They agreed that the two nations will seek a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the standoff over North Korea's nuclear ambitions, Roh said.

Koizumi invited Roh to visit Japan within the year.

The meeting between Koizumi and Roh is the third of the twice-yearly "shuttle summits" between the Japanese and South Korean leaders aimed at boosting dialogue. But relations between the two countries have taken a turn for the worse since the first two rounds held last July and December.

Underscoring the chilliness between the two countries, the two leaders met in the presidential palace in suits and neckties, unlike the last two rounds which were held at resorts in each other's countries in casual attire.

On other issues, Koizumi said he agreed with Roh to double the number of shuttle flights between Tokyo's Haneda airport and Seoul's Kimpo airport starting Aug. 1. The shuttle flights, which started in November 2003, will increase from four to eight round-trip flights per day.

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