The South Korean National Assembly speaker on Thursday apologized for the first time for saying earlier that an apology from then Emperor Akihito would settle a long-standing dispute over Korean women forced into Japan's wartime brothels.
Moon Hee Sang made the apology during a meeting with former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Seoul, in which the one-time Japanese leader told the speaker that his remarks had come off as impolite, according to the parliament.
"I say to those who felt hurt (by the remarks) that I am sorry," Moon was quoted by the parliament as saying.
In an interview with Bloomberg news service on Feb. 8, the lawmaker called for the then emperor to apologize to the so-called comfort women before abdicating at the end of April.
In interviews with several South Korean media organizations reported in mid-February, Moon doubled down on his demand for an apology from the then emperor and slammed the Japanese government for having demanded he retract and apologize for his initial remarks.
He said at the time that Japan was acting like a "brazen thief" for demanding an apology from him when it is Tokyo that owes an apology.
The dispute over Moon's comments further raised tensions between the two countries, whose ties have long been strained over historical grievances related to Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
Japan and South Korea reached an agreement in 2015 to settle the comfort women issue, but the government of President Moon Jae In, who came into power in 2017, concluded that the deal, which was unpopular among South Koreans, failed to reflect the opinions of surviving victims.
Seoul then decided to dissolve a Japanese-funded foundation that had been set up as a key pillar of the deal and that had disbursed money to dozens of former comfort women.