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A senior US official on Tuesday urged two of its Asian allies — the Republic of Korea and Japan — to solve their islands dispute through dialogue, emphasizing the importance of trilateral cooperation to deter Pyongyang's provocations.
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns expressed concern at the territorial spats in Northeast Asia as he held strategic consultations with the ROK officials, an ROK foreign ministry official said.
According to the anonymous official, Burns called for talks between Seoul and Tokyo to settle their row over an island chain known as Dokdo in the ROK and Takeshima in Japan, saying cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington is crucial to deter any provocation by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
During their strategic dialogue, ROK Vice-Foreign Minister Ahn Ho-young and Burns discussed how to maintain security on the Korean Peninsula, with an emphasis on keeping the DPRK in check ahead of the countries' presidential elections, Yonhap News Agency cited the ministry officials as saying.
Seoul is part of Burns' five-nation tour, which also includes stops in Japan, China, Myanmar and India. Before the meeting with Ahn, Burns held talks on Monday with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba.
Tension has run high between the ROK and Japan in recent months after ROK President Lee Myung-bak's unprecedented visit to the disputed islets in mid-August.
Japan was infuriated, saying the visit — the first by an ROK president — was deliberately provocative.
Seoul insists Tokyo's claim is erroneously founded in its 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.
Lee said in August his visit was designed to press Japan to settle lingering colonial-era grievances, including the issue of Korean women who were forced to become sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II.
The visit and Lee's comments sent ROK-Japan relations — which have often been tense despite close economic ties — into a freefall, and triggered a fierce propaganda war over the territorial issue.
To deter provocations from the DPRK is only one goal of the US, said Wang Junsheng, an expert on East Asian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Besides, Washington doesn't want to see the Washington-Seoul-Tokyo trilateral alliance worsened by the ROK-Japan dispute," he said.
"The dispute between its two allies will surely weaken Washington's influence in the region."
Wang added that both Seoul and Washington believe Pyongyang will take aggressive actions amid presidential elections in the ROK and the US this year.