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S. Korea, Japan to hold breakthrough summit with US in move to mend ties

SEOUL -- South Korea and Japan said Friday that their leaders will hold a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama next week, in a breakthrough after Washington urged the pair to mend badly strained ties.

The meeting on the sidelines of an international nuclear conference taking place in The Hague next Monday and Tuesday will mark the first formal talks between President Park Geun-hye and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since they took office more than a year ago.

“The government has decided to take part in a three-way summit with the United States and Japan to be hosted by the United States on the occasion of The Hague nuclear security summit,” Seoul's foreign ministry said in a statement.

“At the three-way summit, North Korea's nuclear programs and the issue of nuclear non-proliferation will be discussed.”

The Japanese foreign ministry confirmed the plans, while Seoul said the pair were also consulting over possible talks between senior officials on Japan's use of Korean women in military brothels during World War II.

Although not a one-on-one encounter, the talks are a significant step forward as Park had repeatedly ruled out a summit with Abe until Tokyo demonstrates sincere repentance for “past wrongdoings.”

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo are at their lowest ebb for years, mired in emotive issues linked to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule and an island territorial dispute as well as its wartime use of so-called “comfort women.”

Recent surveys have shown that the Japanese leader is even more unpopular with South Koreans than North Korean supremo Kim Jong Un.

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Protesters wearing masks of U.S. President Barack Obama, left, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye attend a rally against their summit scheduled in The Hague next week, in Seoul, South Korea on Friday, March 21. (AP)

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