U.N. chief says Japan, South Korea should improve ties

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Japan and South Korea on Wednesday to make moves to improve their strained relations, and called for an "open mind" in talks on Iran's nuclear program.

Annan, who was in South Korea for talks with President Roh Moo-hyun earlier this week, said after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Tokyo that the two countries were ready to bolster ties.

"After this conversation, I have a feeling that the door is open," Annan told reporters at Koizumi's office. "It may require some important gestures to ease the way forward and remove the impediments."

Annan, however, did not specify what those gestures might be or which side should make them. While in Seoul, Roh criticized Koizumi's repeated visits to a Tokyo war shrine that critics say glorifies militarism.

Roh has refused to meet Koizumi since canceling a planned summit in December due to a visit to Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including executed World War II war criminals.

Annan and Koizumi also discussed Iran's nuclear program, and he said the Security Council was working to put together a common strategy. The U.S. believes Iran's nuclear power program is a cover for an atomic weapons effort.

"A package is being prepared which will be put on the table when the negotiations resume," he said. "And I hope it does resume and that all parties will go to the table with an open mind."

It was not clear, however, whether Annan was referring to negotiations within the Security Council or eventual talks with Iran. He pulled away from reporters after the statement and ignored shouted follow-up questions, reports the AP.


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