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Japanese PM, South Korean President Agree to Meet Soon


Japanese and South Korean officials say their two leaders have agreed to hold a summit soon, although no date has been set. The agreement came in a telephone call Japan's new prime minister made to the South Korean president.

Relations between Japan and South Korea, damaged in recent years by displays of nationalism on both sides, are showing tentative signs of warming.

Officials in both capitals say Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, telephoned South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun in response to a telegram from Mr. Roh congratulating Mr. Abe on taking office.

Mr. Abe's reputation is that of a nationalist who wants to increase Japan's military capabilities. But South Korea and China, victims of past Japanese aggression, are hoping relations with Japan can improve now that he has replaced Junichiro Koizumi.

Mr. Koizumi angered Chinese and South Korean leaders during his five years as prime minister with his public annual visits to the Yasukuni war shrine. The Tokyo shrine honors Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals, and is seen as a symbol of Japan's militarist past.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters it is possible Mr. Abe and Mr. Roh could meet before November's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Vietnam.

Shiozaki says Mr. Abe expressed his willingness to discuss issues of mutual concern as quickly as possible, including North Korea's nuclear development. But he says the matter of the Yasukuni Shrine was not directly addressed.

Shiozaki cautioned that people should not expect to see frequent meetings between Japanese and South Korean leaders resuming, given the poor state of relations between the two countries at the moment.

A South Korean presidential spokesman says a summit can be expected "at an appropriate time."

South Korea and Japan have not held formal leader-to-leader talks since last November. The Chinese leadership refused to meet with Mr. Koizumi, because of his repeated visits to the war shrine.

Shortly after becoming prime minister on Tuesday, Mr. Abe vowed to improve relations with both countries.

He has refused to say whether he would personally visit the shrine after becoming prime minister. Japanese media say Mr. Abe has visited Yasukuni privately on several occasions, most recently in April.

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