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S.Korea-Japan talks crumble

U.S. Effort to Show Unity Backfires as Japan, South Korea Officials Walk Out

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, MD - APRIL 03: US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman arrives on April 3, 2015 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Sherman returned after participating in Iran nuclear program talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Switzerland (Photo by Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images)

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. effort to show unity between two of its closest allies backfired, after Japanese and South Korean officials walked out and left the No. 2 American diplomat to face reporters on her own. 

By Isabel Reynolds and Jeong-Ho Lee

Word Count: 482
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was forced to give a solo news conference Wednesday in Washington following three-way talks with her Japanese and South Korean counterparts. Sherman described the discussions on issues including Chinese pressure on Taiwan and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as “very constructive,” and attempted to play down the dust-up.

“There are some bilateral differences between Japan and the Republic of Korea that are continuing to be resolved, and one of those differences, which is unrelated to today’s meeting, has led to the change in format for today’s press availability,” she told reporters.

Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the government decided it was inappropriate to hold a joint press conference amid a dispute over an islet that both neighbors claim. Tokyo had earlier lodged a complaint over National Police Agency Commissioner-General Kim Chang-yong’s trip Tuesday to Dokdo.

South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun said he decided not to take part in the briefing out of concern the dispute would overshadow other issues. “If we held a joint press conference, Japanese media would have asked questions related to the visit, and the two sides would have to rebut one another’s position on Dokdo. We were worried about that,” Choi told reporters in Washington.

Why Japan’s Feud With South Korea Isn’t Going Away: QuickTake

Long-simmering tensions between Japan and South Korea have worsened in recent years, with disputes dating back to Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula hurting trade and security ties between the two U.S. allies. The rights to Dokdo and its surrounding resources, which are controlled by South Korea, are viewed as symbolically significant by both countries.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the talks in Washington had been held on the basis that bilateral problems would be set aside. The three countries agreed to cooperate closely on North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles, the ministry said in an emailed statement, which didn’t touch on the reasons for Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori’s absence.

Sherman began the briefing by admonishing a reporter who asked two questions — about Taiwan and about declaring a formal end to the Korean War — for exceeding a one-question limit. She said she didn’t want the reporter “to set an example that is bad for your colleagues,” but went on to answer both.

“What I think is very important is that the United States, Korea and Japan are of one mind in our work together to ensure global prosperity, peace and security for citizens in every country,” she said.

–With assistance from Nick Wadhams and Shinhye Kang.

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