Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday he and South Korean President Moon Jae In reaffirmed their shared stance with the United States to maximize pressure on North Korea until it gives up its nuclear and missile development.
Abe repeated his call for maintaining a tough stance on the reclusive state in a meeting held before the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, saying, "Dialogue for the sake of dialogue is meaningless."
The meeting came as the Winter Olympics has seen the arrival of a high-level delegation from North Korea. Moon said the inter-Korea dialogue will not derail efforts toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula or disturb international cooperation against Pyongyang's provocations.
Abe said he also reiterated Japan's stance on the 2015 bilateral agreement with South Korea on the issue of "comfort women" who were forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels, but a Japanese government official said the leaders failed to find common ground.
Tokyo and Seoul have recently been at odds over the issue since the Moon administration announced in January its new policy on the bilateral agreement, which was signed to settle the dispute "finally and irreversibly" under his predecessor Park Geun Hye. Abe initially expressed doubt about accepting Seoul's invitation to the Olympic opening ceremony.
While describing the deal as "seriously flawed," Moon has said Seoul will not seek to renegotiate it, expressing hope for a fresh Japanese apology to the victims.
Preparations for the Pyeongchang Games have involved dialogue and displays of unity between the two Koreas, with signs of easing military tensions emerging on the Korean Peninsula.
At the outset of the meeting, Moon said the South Korean government has been making efforts to settle the North Korean nuclear issue and ensure lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of the Pyeongchang "peace" Olympics.
Abe and Moon agreed to seek the denuclearization of the peninsula and, to that end, shared the view that pressure on Pyongyang needs to be raised, according to the Japanese official who attended the meeting.
"North Korea must recognize that the strong ties between Japan, the United States and South Korea will never waver," Abe told reporters.
After North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un extended an olive branch in his New Year's address, the North and South resumed official talks and agreed to form a joint women's ice hockey team and march together under a unified flag at the opening ceremony.
Earlier Friday, Pyongyang's high-level delegation including Kim Jong Un's younger sister Kim Yo Jong and its ceremonial leader Kim Yong Nam arrived in South Korea. The two are scheduled to hold talks with Moon on Saturday.
Tokyo and Washington believe that through dialogue with Seoul, Pyongyang is aiming to buy time to develop its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and drive a wedge between the three countries.
The North has stopped its provocations since launching an intercontinental ballistic missile in November. But speculation is growing it might fire a missile if South Korea and the United States resume joint military drills after the Paralympics in March.
On the eve of the opening ceremony, the North carried out a massive military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army and demonstrated what appeared to be ICBMs.
Abe and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is also in South Korea for the Olympic opening ceremony, agreed Wednesday in Tokyo to reaffirm with Moon their stance of maximizing pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.
In a show of trilateral unity, Abe, Moon and Pence held a photo session during a reception South Korea hosted for foreign guests.
On the comfort women issue, Moon explained South Korea's position in response to Abe's remarks, said the Japanese official who declined to elaborate on their exchanges.
The presidential office said Moon reiterated his stance, saying the deal would not resolve the issue as long as it is hard for the victims and the Korean people to accept it.
Under the deal, Japan paid 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) to a foundation to support the victims and Abe expressed his "most sincere apologies and remorse" to them.
South Korea, meanwhile, said it "will strive to resolve" the issue of a statue symbolizing comfort women in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. During the summit, Abe requested that the statue be removed, according to the official.
"We shared the recognition that we must build future-oriented Japan-South Korea relations," Abe told reporters. Moon echoed the view, but also noted that Japan must first look squarely at their shared history, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.
Abe and Moon also agreed to hold a trilateral summit involving China "as soon as possible," which Japan sought to host last year.
After South Korea hosted the gathering in 2015, Tokyo was due to hold the next one in the following year, but the plan was postponed due to political turmoil in South Korea.