Updated: 04/14/2014 01:14 | By Agence France-Presse

Japan, S. Korea to discuss 'comfort women' before Obama visit

Japan and South Korea will hold talks this week to try to improve frosty relations before President Barack Obama visits both the US allies during an Asian tour, it was announced Sunday.

Japan, S. Korea to discuss 'comfort women' before Obama visit

South Korean female students carry funeral streamers during a memorial service for the deceased "comfort women", who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, in downtown Seoul on August 8, 2012 - by Jung Yeon-Je

The two governments "have decided to engage in intensive discussions on various subjects at various levels" to improve conditions surrounding relations, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement.

Junichi Ihara, head of its Asia and Oceania affairs bureau, will visit Seoul on Wednesday for a meeting with his Korean counterpart, the statement said.

"At the occasion, the comfort women issue will be discussed," it added.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have sunk to their worst level in years, mired in emotive disputes linked to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over Korea -- particularly its use of so-called "comfort women" from Korea and other Asian nations as sex slaves in wartime brothels.

The emotional issue has deeply divided the key US allies in northeast Asia amid growing regional security risks such as China's military buildup and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Obama managed last month to arrange the first summit meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, in The Hague.

Japan's government made a landmark apology in 1993 to the "comfort women".

But repeated wavering since then on the issue among senior right-wing politicians has contributed to a feeling in South Korea that Japan is in denial and is not sufficiently remorseful.

Abe, despite his nationalistic inclinations, promised last month not to revise the 1993 apology, and said he was "deeply pained" by the suffering of women drawn into a system of wartime brothels.

Obama will also visit Malaysia and the Philippines during his Asian tour this month.

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