December 29, 2017 10:42
President Moon Jae-in on Thursday said a controversial deal with Japan to compensate Korean wartime sex slaves is "seriously flawed" and "cannot settle" the dispute.
In a statement read by Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Park Soo-hyun, Moon said, "It was an official agreement by both countries, but I have to reaffirm that the matter can't be settled like that."
His remarks came after a report by a Foreign Ministry task force on Wednesday concluded that the Park Geun-hye administration had been furtive about the details of the December 2015 deal and kept several promises to Tokyo secret.
"The announcement from the task force confirmed that the deal… was gravely flawed," Moon said. "Above all, it was a political agreement without considering the opinions of victims and citizens."
Japan has reacted angrily to the report, with Foreign Minister Taro Kono warning that relations will become "unmanageable" if Korea goes back on the deal.
Top Cheong Wa Dae officials on Thursday told reporters that the president's comments "do not signify an intention" to nullify or renegotiate the deal. Moon added he wants to separate the sex slavery issue from the pursuit of diplomatic relations with Japan. "I hope Korea and Japan will overcome the history of an unfortunate past and become true friends," he said.
The government is to listen to the opinions of experts and civic groups that support the former sex slaves before Moon announces his position at a New Year's press conference.
There has been no contact between Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about the report, but Korean officials said they talked to their U.S. counterparts in view of the impact frayed ties with Tokyo could have on U.S.-led regional military alliances.
Abe told the Nihon Keizi Shimbun, "The agreement will not be moved even 1 millimeter." Japanese media, both liberal and conservative, also lambasted the Korean government on their front pages.
Rightwingers in Japan are especially keen on the deal because it lets Tokyo off without admitting direct responsibility for forcing thousands of Korean and other Asian women to work in brothels for the Imperial Army.
One former high-ranking diplomat said, "I had expected this to happen, but I am worried that Japan's reaction to the report is stronger than expected."
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