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'Park rules out more meetings with Abe'

By Kim Tae-gyu

President Park Geun-hye is not likely to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again unless the latter changes his unrepentant attitude toward Japan's past misdeeds, one of Park's close aides said Wednesday.

But he said Abe will not abandon his ultra-rightist perspectives until the end of his administration, which means that Park will not have a summit again with him after the trilateral meeting last month mediated by U.S. President Barack Obama.

"While serving President Park for the past year, I realized that she wouldn't meet Abe as long as he demonstrates a lack of contrition for Japan's imperial-era atrocities," said the aide regarded as a Japanese expert among Park's secretaries. "But I am quite sure that Abe will not change before he quits."

Despite repeated requests to meet from Abe, who returned to power in late 2012, Park refused to hold a summit because of Abe's remarks and acts, which critics said negate Japan's wrongdoings before and during World War II.

Abe spearheaded efforts to change his country's pacifist constitution so that Japan can send soldiers outside of its territory, while trying to revise his predecessors' statements that acknowledged and apologized for wartime offenses.

In particular, Koreans' antagonism toward Abe culminated in late December after he visited the Yasukuni Shrine that honors 14 Class-A war criminals.

Park said she does not want to meet "for the sake of a meeting," where the two leaders would not be able to produce tangible results due to their differing views of history.

The icy relationship between the two neighbors showed some signs of thawing late month when Park and Abe had their meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the biennial Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague.

The first summit between Park and Abe since she took office early last year took place only after Abe promised to respect, among other things, the Murayama and Kono statements.

Yet, Tokyo chilled any optimistic prospects for future meetings by endorsing history textbooks with more assertive claims on Korea's easternmost islets Dokdo this month.

Against this backdrop, observers pointed out that Obama's Asian trip late this month is not likely to provide crucial momentum to normalize the sprained relations between two of his country's major Asian allies.

"If Japan does not change, Obama can hardly do anything to mend ties between Seoul and Tokyo. Although he is a leader of the world's superpower, he does not have a magic wand," said journalist-turned-commentator Lee Kang-yun.


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