US seeks to ease dispute between S.Korea, Japan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Washington in March 2019
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The United States promised Thursday to do "everything we can" to ease tensions between South Korea and Japan as Seoul raised its concerns over Tokyo's restrictions of crucial exports with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. South Korea said Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in a telephone call with Pompeo brought up the intensifying row, in which Japan has ended expedited shipments of chemical compounds used to manufacture microchips and smartphones. The State Department declined to voice an opinion on the Japanese action but said it considered its relationships with both countries to be "incredibly important." "We're going to do everything we can to pursue ways to strengthen our relationship between and amongst all three countries, both publicly and behind the scenes," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters. "We all face shared regional challenges and priorities in the Indo-Pacific and around the world," she said. Tokyo is angry at South Korean court rulings that Japanese firms must compensate forced laborers from Japan's 1910-1945 rule of the peninsula. Japan says that claims over the colonial period -- which elicits strong emotions among Koreans -- were resolved when Tokyo signed a treaty in 1965 to establish diplomatic relations with Seoul. Kang told Pompeo that Japan's trade restrictions "not only harm South Korean companies but disturb the global supply system," the South Korean foreign ministry said. "It is undesirable in light of the friendly and cooperative relations between South Korea and Japan and trilateral cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan," it said in a statement. Two South Korean companies alone, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, account for almost two-thirds of global chip production. Senior South Korean official Kim Hyun-chong, on a visit to Washington, said the United States wanted high-level three-way talks to resolve the spat, according to the Yonhap news agency. Ortagus declined to discuss potential meetings, but Pompeo and his two counterparts are all expected to be in Bangkok around the end of the month for meetings of the ASEAN bloc of Southeast Asian nations. Pompeo also spoke to Kang about seeking the denuclearization of North Korea, with diplomacy set to resume after President Donald Trump's dramatic walk across the military border into the authoritarian state on June 30.

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