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S. Korean, Japanese Leaders Promise 'New Era' of Teamwork


The leaders of South Korea and Japan are promising a "new era" in their historically difficult relationship. Following a Tokyo summit, officials of the two countries say they will cooperate closely on trade and security issues, bolstered by frequent shuttle diplomacy. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

Standing beside South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo announced a revival of high-level contacts between the two countries. He says the two sides are launching shuttle diplomacy. Mr. Fukuda says he will visit South Korea, later this year, and that the two sides will meet during upcoming G-8 summit talks in Japan, to establish a "new era" in relations.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said he wants "future-oriented" relations with Japan, without what he calls the "knee-jerk reactions" that have created friction in recent years.

Japan exerted harsh colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula for most of the first half of the 20th Century. Many South Koreans say Tokyo has never adequately made amends for abuses committed during that time. President Lee's predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, halted many high-level contacts with Japan in a dispute over visits by top-level Japanese politicians to a controversial Tokyo war shrine.

Now, however, the two sides have agreed to renew cooperation toward a stalled trade liberalization deal and toward ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

Mr. Fukuda says Japan wants to normalize relations with North Korea as soon as possible. However, as a precondition, North Korea must resolve the issues of kidnapped Japanese citizens and Pyongyang's missile development. He says Japan needs the South Korean government's support on the nuclear issue.

President Lee reassured the Japanese prime minister of that support.

Mr. Lee says the two countries will tighten cooperation to seek a peaceful end to North Korean nuclear development, because it threatens Northeast Asia and the world.

Pyongyang is more than four months late in providing a complete declaration of its nuclear stockpiles and activities. It promised that list by the end of 2007. However, recent meeting between American and North Korean nuclear envoys in Singapore produced an apparent breakthrough. A team of working-level U.S. diplomats arrived in Seoul, Monday. They head to Pyongyang Tuesday for talks on finalizing the declaration.

The main obstacles delaying the document have been U.S. accusations of a secret North Korean uranium enrichment program and suspicions Pyongyang lent nuclear cooperation to Syria. North Korea is reported to be willing to "acknowledge" those concerns in a document separate from the formal declaration.

Kim Sook, South Korea's chief delegate to multinational nuclear talks with North Korea, told the South's Pyeonghwa radio network everything North Korea says will have to be verified.

He says South Korea will not be able to drop suspicion without verifying the North's declaration. He says it will have to be done objectively and scientifically, rather than by just accepting the North's explanations. He says that it will take time.

Multinational nuclear talks can resume almost immediately after North Korea submits its declaration. South Korean officials say a new round may convene as early as next month.

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