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July 24, 2017

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South Korea, Japan hold talks on mending ties

SEOUL -- Top South Korean and Japanese diplomats held talks in Seoul on Wednesday as the United States pushed its two key Asian allies to improve badly strained ties.

The meeting between South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong and his Japanese counterpart Akitaka Saiki came with relations between Seoul and Tokyo at their lowest ebb for years.

At the core of the current stand-off are emotive, unresolved issues related to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, its wartime use of South Korean women in military brothels and an island territorial dispute.

The situation was exacerbated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to a controversial war shrine in December that drew strong protests from Seoul and Beijing.

"It is an occasion to test whether South Korea-Japan relations would work out in the future," Cho told reporters before the talks began.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has ruled out a summit with Abe until Tokyo demonstrates sincere repentance for "past wrongdoings" and recent surveys have shown that the Japanese leader is more unpopular with South Koreans than North Korean supremo Kim Jong Un.

The rift has been viewed with growing alarm in Washington. South Korea and Japan are the two major U.S. military allies in Asia and key to the U.S. strategic "pivot" to the region.

Last week, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia Danny Russel urged Seoul and Tokyo to find a way past the current diplomatic impasse.

"We continue to stress the need for prudence and restraint, for all parties to take steps that will promote healing," Russel told a Senate subcommittee.

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