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New Japan PM Might Visit South Korea

New Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eyeing a visit to South Korea in early to mid-October in an attempt to smooth tense relations, a report and officials said Friday.

The government is also considering a visit by Abe to Beijing for talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Kyodo News agency said. But an early trip to China is unlikely because of its demand that Abe clearly pledge not to visit Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine, the report added.

Critics say the shrine glorifies Japanese militarism. Abe and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun talked by phone for about 20 minutes early Thursday and agreed to hold a Japan-South Korea summit meeting for the first time in nearly a year.

Kyodo reported Friday, citing unidentified diplomatic officials, that Abe is aiming to visit South Korea around Oct. 7 for talks with Roh.

In Seoul, a South Korean presidential aide, speaking on condition of anonymity due to policy, said that the Roh-Abe summit is expected to take place in mid-October but the exact date for the meeting has yet to be fixed.

In a statement released Thursday, Roh stressed the importance of "mutual trust and respect" between the two countries, and said the two leaders could also discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Roh had refused since last year to meet with former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi because of his visits to Yasukuni Shrine. The two last met in November 2005.

Abe also is a firm believer in visits to the shrine, but unlike his predecessor, he has not pledged to make a pilgrimage as prime minister. He reportedly last went there in April.

A meeting between the leaders would be a breakthrough for the two neighbors, which still struggle to overcome bitter memories in South Korea of Japan's harsh 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen in Tokyo reports that Abe is a "series of contradictions". News of his possible trips to ease tensions among his neighbors came on the heels of Abe declaring that it might be time to rethink the pacifist declaration in Japan's constitution.

"No wonder he woke up on his first day as prime minister to see an editorial cartoon depicting him as a hawk," said Petersen.

"What has changed," explains Petersen, "is, in part, a North Korea that now claims to have nuclear weapons and has tested missiles that can easily hit downtown Tokyo. And there's China using its growing wealth to buy better and more modern weapons."

Those same looming issues may well be driving Abe to visit China and South Korea, in hopes of creating a dialogue to negotiate with the communist North, and to reduce animosity between the countries.

Japan and South Korea are also sparring over ownership of a pair of islets in the waters between them. The islands are held by South Korea, but Japan also claims them.

Japan's government also is attempting to arrange a meeting between Abe and Chinese President Hu.

The Chinese leader also boycotted meetings with Koizumi, and the two last met in April 2005 at a regional meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.

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