S.Korea, Japan agree to irreversibly end 'comfort women' row

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Japan to Give $8.3 Million to Former South Korean 'Comfort Women'

SEOUL, Dec 28 (Reuters) - South Korea and Japan reached a landmark agreement on Monday to resolve the issue of "comfort women," as those who were forced to work in Japan's wartime brothels were euphemistically known, which has long plagued ties between the neighbors.

The foreign ministers of the two countries said after a meeting in Seoul that the "comfort women" issue would be "finally and irreversibly resolved" if all conditions were met.

See photos of the debate and agreement:

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S.Korea, Japan agree to irreversibly end 'comfort women' row
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, right, shakes hands with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida after their joint press conference at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. The foreign ministers said they had reached a deal meant to resolve a decades-long impasse over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II, a potentially dramatic breakthrough between the Northeast Asian neighbors and rivals. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, left, is shown the way by South Korean President Park Geun-hye prior to a meeting at the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan said Monday they had reached a deal meant to resolve a decades-long impasse over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II, a potentially dramatic breakthrough between the Northeast Asian neighbors and rivals. (Chun Jean-hwan/Newsis via AP) KOREA OUT
A statue symbolizing a wartime sex slave is displayed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan said Monday they had reached a deal meant to resolve a decades-long impasse over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II, a potentially dramatic breakthrough between the Northeast Asian neighbors and rivals. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean bereaved family members of victims of World War II stage a rally demanding full compensation and apology from Japanese government in front of Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan will meet Monday to try to resolve a decades-long impasse over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, right, talks with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida during their joint press conference at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. The foreign ministers said they had reached a deal meant to resolve a decades-long impasse over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II, a potentially dramatic breakthrough between the Northeast Asian neighbors and rivals. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 28: South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se (R) attends the joint press conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (L) at foreign ministry on December 28, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met to discuss the issue of Korean 'comfort women' in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se, right, and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida pose for a photo at the start of their meeting at Foreign Ministry in Seoul Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. The foreign ministers met Monday to try to resolve a decades-long impasse over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)
A South Korean bereaved family member of victims of World War II attends a rally demanding full compensation and apology from Japanese government in front of Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan will meet Monday to try to resolve a decades-long impasse over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 28: A statue of a girl symbolizing the issue of 'comfort women' in front of the Japanese Embassy on December 28, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met to discuss the issue of Korean 'comfort women' in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 28: A statue of a girl symbolizing the issue of 'comfort women' in front of the Japanese Embassy on December 28, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met to discuss the issue of Korean 'comfort women' in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Protestors sit next to a statue (C) of a South Korean teenage girl in traditional costume called the 'peace monument' for former 'comfort women' who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, during a weekly anti-Japanese demonstration near the Japanese embassy in Seoul on November 11, 2015. South Korean and Japanese officials held their first talks on November 11 since their leaders agreed to seek a speedy resolution in a long-running dispute over Korean women forced into wartime sexual slavery. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R on blue chairs) South Korean former 'comfort women' Kim Bok-Dong, Gil Won-Ok and Lee Yong-Soo, who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, attend a protest with other supporters to demand Tokyo's apology for forcing women into military brothels during World War II outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on August 12, 2015. Close to 1,000 protestors had gathered outside the embassy ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean former 'comfort women' Kim Bok-Dong (L) and Gil Won-Ok (R), who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, sit under a yellow umbrella during a press conference outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on June 23, 2015. South Korea's ageing victims of Japan's wartime sex slavery said they would file a 20 million USD lawsuit next month at a US court to seek financial compensation from Tokyo. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A South Korean protestor hits an effigy of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a saw during an anti-Japan rally outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on April 1, 2015. Abe described 'comfort women,' mainly Koreans who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, as victims of 'human trafficking,' in a recent interview with a US newspaper. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean protestors hold placards showing portraits of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during an anti-Japan rally outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on April 1, 2015. Abe described 'comfort women,' mainly Koreans who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, as victims of 'human trafficking,' in a recent interview with a US newspaper. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
Elderly South Korean women Kim Bok-Dong (L) and Gil Won-Ok (C), who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, demand a sincere apology from Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a protest outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on April 29, 2015. South Korea wants Abe to offer sincere repentance on Japan's wartime atrocities when he addresses a joint session of the US Congress. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
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South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to take the opportunity to boost bilateral ties soon after the agreement by the foreign ministers.

The accord will be welcomed by the United States, which has been keen for improved relations between its two major Asian allies in the face of an increasingly assertive China and an unpredictable North Korea.

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Strains between Tokyo and Seoul have prevented the two countries from signing an agreement to share sensitive military information, so a year ago they signed a three-way pact under which Seoul routes its information to the United States which then passes it on to Japan, and vice versa.

Park "hoped that since the two governments worked through a difficult process to reach this agreement, they can cooperate closely to start building trust and open a new relationship," her office quoted her as saying to Abe.

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Abe told reporters in Tokyo that Japan has apologized and expressed its remorse, but added future Japanese generations should not have to keep on doing so.

"We should never allow this problem to drag on into the next generation," he said, echoing remarks he made marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two on August 15. "From now on, Japan and South Korea will enter a new era."

Japan was "painfully aware of its responsibilities" for the affront to the women's honor and dignity, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a news conference in Seoul with his South Korean counterpart.

"Prime Minister Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences."

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Calling the agreement "epoch-making," Kishida told reporters later: "I believe this has set up a stage for advancement of security cooperation between Japan and South Korea, as well as among Japan, the United States and South Korea."

Japan will draw on its government budget to contribute about one billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund that will help the former "comfort women," and work with South Korea to run a program to restore their honor and dignity, Kishida said.

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In this composite image a comparison has been made between former US Presidential Candidates Harry S Truman (L) and Thomas E. Dewey. In 1948 Harry S Truman won the presidential election to become the President of the United States.

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Scholars continue to debate the number of women exploited. Activists in South Korea say there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims, only a few of whom came forward.

Only 46 survivors remain of the 238 women in South Korea who came forward, and their average age is 89.

"FINALLY AND IRREVERSIBLY"

South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said he valued Japan's efforts.

"On the premise that the steps pledged by the Japanese government are earnestly carried out, the Korean government confirms that the matter (of comfort women) is finally and irreversibly resolved," Yun told the news conference.

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The two countries have been trying for decades to overcome divisions over the "comfort women" issue, but past efforts have not succeeded.

Japan had been insisting South Korea state its intention to lay the issue to rest this time, since many officials resent what they see as South Korea's use of the "comfort women" issue for domestic political gain despite past steps taken by Tokyo.

South Korea, for its part, wanted a clearer statement by Japan of its responsibility for the women's suffering.

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Former Japanese diplomat Kunihiko Miyake said the timing was right for the deal, since Abe wanted to resolve the dispute this year, the 70th anniversary of World War Two's end, and Park doubtless felt it was better to do so well ahead of a parliamentary election set for next year.

A powerful symbol of success would be the fate of a statue symbolizing "comfort women" that has been put up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and has been an irritant to Tokyo.

Although South Korea did not agree to remove the statue, Yun said Seoul recognizes Japan's concerns and will hold discussions with the group that erected it to address the issue.

The two countries have been pushing to improve relations since Abe met Park last month. That meeting took place partly under pressure from Washington.

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