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3RD LD: Japan, S. Korea hold EEZ demarcation talks amid islets row.

TOKYO, June 12 Kyodo


Japan and South Korea held the first day of a two-day meeting Monday in Tokyo with ''serious discussions'' aimed at demarcating their exclusive economic zones around a pair of disputed islets, resuming negotiations after a six-year suspension.

Neither of the delegation heads of Japan and South Korea gave any details of their talks during Monday's meeting at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, simply saying they will continue talking on Tuesday.

''We held serious, in-depth discussions from the standpoint of international law experts,'' Ichiro Komatsu, head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's International Legal Affairs Bureau and Japan's chief delegate to the EEZ talks, told reporters after emerging from the six-hour session.

Komatsu said Japan confirmed its stance that a 1996 bilateral agreement is the premise for future negotiations but stopped short of saying whether or not South Korea concurred.

Komatsu said during his remarks at the outset of the meeting, ''We agreed to pursue EEZ talks independently from territorial claims over Takeshima at top-level talks in 1996 and to hold a meaningful negotiation in last month's foreign ministerial meeting.''

In 1996, then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and South Korean President Kim Young Sam agreed to hold EEZ negotiations without linking their nations' claims of sovereignty over the islets.

Separately, Park Hee Kwon, director general for the Treaties Bureau of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade who heads the South Korean delegation, told reporters, ''We had serious discussions and told each other our (basic) positions (on our respective EEZs around the islets).''

Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi meanwhile said at his regular news conference that the two countries are both conscious of the problem over the EEZ demarcation and expressed hope the talks will yield ''progress so as to avoid a situation in which they will give up and say it is no use to hold discussions.''

A tough road ahead is expected, however, as South Korea has expressed an intention to push for a more extensive EEZ than it was claiming in previous talks, following recent tensions that flared over a territorial row involving the pair of South Korean-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan.

The zones respectively claimed by the two nations overlap around the islets, which are known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

Japan plans to stick to its previous proposal to draw a median line between Takeshima and South Korea's Ullung Island, located west of the disputed islets.

South Korea in past negotiations proposed drawing a median line between Ullung and Japan's Oki islands off Shimane Prefecture.

Last week, South Korea indicated it would take a tougher stance in talks with Japan on the boundaries of the two nations' zones, proposing drawing a median line between the disputed islets and Oki islands, making Dokdo the cardinal line instead of Ullung.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency quoted Suh Choo Suk, senior presidential secretary for national security, as saying on June 5 that South Korea has ''no choice'' but to propose Dokdo as a cardinal point.

The EEZ talks come after Japan and South Korea became embroiled in a dispute in April when the Japan Coast Guard announced it planned to conduct a marine survey in waters near the islets, drawing strong protests from South Korea.

The countries averted a confrontation in a vice ministerial meeting in Seoul after they reached a compromise in which Japan agreed to withdraw its plan to conduct the survey.

Japan and South Korea held four rounds of EEZ negotiations between 1996 -- the year both countries ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea -- and 2000, alternately in Tokyo and Seoul.

On conducting surveys in waters where the EEZ claims overlap, Japan is expected to propose creating a system in which the two nations give each other advance notice when conducting the surveys, or conduct joint surveys, according to ministry officials.

South Korea has argued that there is no need for surveys within its own EEZ.

Takeshima consists of two small islets and reefs with a total area of 0.23 square kilometer. South Korea has stationed coast guard personnel on the island since 1954.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jun 12, 2006
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