SEOUL, Feb. 18 -- Senior Foreign Ministry officials of South Korea and Japan held talks Tuesday in Seoul after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hoped last week for improved ties between the two major allies ahead of President Barack Obama's trip to Asia in April.
Junichi Ihara, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, met with his South Korean counterpart Lee Sang-duk in Seoul's Foreign Ministry headquarters, according to the ministry.
It was the first director general-level dialogue between Seoul and Tokyo after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid his respect last December to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of Japanese militaristic past as it enshrines 14 class-A war criminals during the World War .
The meeting came after the U.S. top diplomat voiced hopes for eased tensions between the two countries. Kerry said in Seoul last Thursday that South Korea and Japan can "put history behind and move relations forward."
Kerry's visit to Seoul coincided with the announcement of Obama 's trip to South Korea and Japan in April. The U.S. might have served as a diplomatic arbitrator to arrange the meeting between high-level diplomats of South Korea and Japan.
Ihara, who represents Japan at the six-party talks, aimed at dismantling the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s nuclear weapons program, also met with South Korean envoy to the talks Cho Tae-yong before meeting with Lee.
Playing down the senior-level talks, Seoul's Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young told a press briefing that Ihara came here to attend a meeting with heads of three Japanese establishments in South Korea, noting that his visit to the ministry came as part of his courtesy call to his South Korean counterparts, which happen frequently.
Cho stressed that Ihara's visit itself will not be of any importance to mend Seoul-Tokyo ties, saying what is more important is how Japan will respond to resolve territorial and historical disputes with South Korea.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday that he really liked to hold talks with his South Korean counterpart as cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the U.S. will be important given the DPRK situations, according to Kyodo News Agency.
Touching on the report, spokesman Cho said that there has been no official request from Japan's Foreign Ministry for the ministerial dialogue yet.
Lee Byung-kee, South Korea's ambassador to Japan, held talks with Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki in Tokyo Monday, but the spokesman said that it was part of usual communications between diplomats. Cho added that the two diplomats exchanged views over overall Seoul-Tokyo relations.
Ties have been frayed between South Korea and Japan since Abe took office in late 2012. Abe and South Korean President Park Geun- hye had yet to hold a summit since her inauguration in February last year due to her refusal to the summit for Abe's wrong perception of history.