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South Korea Gives Cold Welcome to Japanese Official - 2003-01-15


Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi arrived in South Korea Wednesday for talks on the nuclear crisis brewing in North Korea. But she faced an outcry after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's controversial visit to a Tokyo shrine honoring war dead.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi's mission to South Korea was overshadowed by anger over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. The monument honors Japan's World War II war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, citing a scheduling problem, canceled planned talks with Ms. Kawaguchi. A few dozen protesters outside of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday called for her to leave and demanded an apology from Japan.

Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda acknowledged the meeting's cancellation, but said he is unsure if it is related to Mr. Koizumi's shrine visit.

The prime minister denied suggestions that his shrine visit might harm efforts to coordinate policy with Seoul on the current nuclear dispute with North Korea. He said he visited to pray for peace.

Japan brutally colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945, and the shrine visit was interpreted in Seoul and elsewhere in Asia as offensive to Japan's former colonies. People across the region see the monument as glorifying Japan's militaristic past and World War II.

Ms. Kawaguchi's two-day trip is part of efforts by the United States and its allies to resolve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. On Thursday, she is scheduled to meet President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who takes office next month.

Tensions in northeast Asia have been rising since October, when the United States said North Korea admitted having an illegal nuclear weapons program.

Separately, South Korea said Wednesday it will hold ministerial-level talks with North Korea in Seoul from January 21-24. It will be the first such meeting since Pyongyang threatened last month to reactivate a nuclear plant capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

A spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry said the mood in Seoul is "cautiously optimistic" over new signs North Korea and the United States would like to talk to each other.

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