WASHINGTON (AP) — South Korea's president said Thursday that an upcoming summit of Northeast Asia's three leading powers will be a chance to improve her nation's strained relations with Japan.
President Park Geun-hye spoke ahead of a White House meeting Friday with President Barack Obama, who is keen for America's two key Asian allies to overcome bitter differences over Japanese abuses during World War II.
Park told a Washington think tank that in early November, Seoul will host a summit between the leaders of South Korea, Japan and China - the first such meeting in three-and-a-half years.
"I hope this trilateral summit will provide an opportunity for Korea and Japan to clear away obstacles hindering closer bilateral ties and thus hold sincere discussions on the way forward toward a common future," Park said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Park said she was willing to meet bilaterally with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but for such a meeting to be "meaningful" there needed to be progress on the divisive issue of sexual exploitation of Korean women by Japan's imperial army during the war. China has similar gripes with Japan.
South Korea has been seeking an apology and compensation for surviving Korean victims. Park said only 47 such women were still alive.
"We really don't have much time in terms of dealing with this issue and making sure that we can bring closure to their pent-up agony," Park said, according to the English translation of her remarks.
The Japan-South Korea tensions have been a source of anxiety to Washington as it looks to strengthen the U.S. military presence in Asia. The U.S. wants its two allies, which host a total of about 80,000 American forces, to deepen security cooperation against the common threat they face from nuclear-armed North Korea.
The South Korean leader said that the Korean Peninsula stands at a "crossroads" because of the possibility of "strategic provocations" by North Korea in October. There has been speculation that the North, which just marked the 70th anniversary of the ruling communist party, could stage a long-range rocket launch or a nuclear test.
Park described North Korea as the last vestige of the Cold War.
"Vietnam, Myanmar and now Cuba are all headed in the direction of reforms and open door policy. Iran has struck a nuclear agreement. Yet, North Korea clings to the path of isolation by continuing its military provocations and development of nuclear capabilities," she said.
Park said that South Korea, the U.S. and China - the North's only major ally - should make new efforts to deal with Pyongyang.
She stressed the importance of international coordination to impress upon North Korea that it has no choice but to abandon its nuclear aspirations or face deeper isolation. But she said the door should be left open for negotiations.
Park has cultivated closer relations with China as she looks to coax Beijing away from its traditional embrace of Pyongyang. But last month, Park caused handwringing in Washington when she attended a Chinese military parade marking the end of World War II that was snubbed by leaders of most major democracies.
Still, ties with the U.S. remain strong.
Earlier Thursday, Park met Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the Pentagon, and had lunch with Vice President Joe Biden.
"The vice president commended President Park for her efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and reaffirmed unwavering U.S. commitment to deter and defend against North Korean provocations," a statement from Biden's office said.