US defense chief urges Seoul, Tokyo to heal differences
Ashton Carter addresses media after holding talks with South Korean president, defense minister.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called on South Korea and Japan to improve relations Friday.

After meeting his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo and President Park Geun-hye, Carter told a press conference that he wanted "healing and reconciliation" in northeast Asia.

Washington has military ties with both South Korea and Japan, who have been involved in a longstanding diplomatic conflict over Tokyo's attitude toward its 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

On the same day as Carter's meetings with Park and Han, a local parliamentary committee strongly denounced Japan for its "repeated provocations of violating South Korea's territorial sovereignty and distorting history."

Carter's attempt to play peacemaker echoed his sentiment during a trip to Japan earlier in the week.

But his efforts may be bearing fruit already, as Seoul and Tokyo announced a breakthrough Friday.

Next Tuesday, the two sides are to resume '2+2 talks' involving senior foreign and defense ministry officials for the first time since 2009.

Local news agency Yonhap also reported that Japan has requested a meeting of the countries' defense ministers next month.

Historical differences between the two sides have led the South Korean president to refuse a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since they both took office more than two years ago.

Notable points of contention include Tokyo's claim to South Korean-controlled islets and ongoing grievances held by Korean former sex slaves to the Japanese military.

The two countries, however, signed an arrangement with the U.S. last year to share classified information on North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, as Washington seeks strengthened trilateral cooperation with its two key Asian allies in the region marked by the rising China.

Amid growing speculation on whether a contentious U.S. missile defense system, THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense), will be deployed in the South, Carter also said that the matter had not been addressed Friday as the U.S. was not prepared.

"We are not at a point yet of determining where it might be suitably deployed in the future ... We are not [at] a point where we will begin discussions with anyone around the world."

The potential enhancing of Washington’s capabilities on the Korean Peninsula has led to China, Russia and opposition lawmakers in Seoul expressing their concerns.

Carter did, however, address Washington's intent on using its cutting-edge stealth bombers and naval vessels in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Our newest things, best things are being deployed in this part of the world," Yonhap quoted him as saying. "That is the biggest part of our rebalance [to Asia]."

Nearly 30,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed in South Korea - a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

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Last Modified: 2015-04-10 10:33:42
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