SEOUL -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in an interview published Tuesday that Japan must "take legal responsibility for its actions" and "make an official apology" in order to resolve a controversy over a deal to tackle the lingering issue of "comfort women."
Moon's remarks in an interview with The Washington Post were his strongest to date regarding a 2015 agreement struck by his predecessor on the women who were forced to provide sex at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.
"The core to resolving the issue is for Japan to take legal responsibility for its actions and to make an official (government) apology," he said.
In reiterating his earlier stance announced soon after becoming president early last month, Moon stressed that the deal made under the previous administration "is not accepted by the people of (South) Korea, particularly by the victims."
In accordance with the December 2015 agreement, Japan disbursed ¥1 billion last year to a South Korean fund providing support for the affected women and their families. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also expressed his "apologies and remorse" to the comfort women for the suffering they endured.
But the deal, which was heralded as a "final and irreversible" agreement, was criticized by some in South Korea for failing to reflect the voices of the comfort women. Moon had pledged during his election campaign to renegotiate the agreement.
Still, the liberal leader expressed his hope that ties with Japan would improve, saying in the interview that "we should not block the advancement of Korea-Japan bilateral relations just because of this one issue."
When asked about frustration in Washington that Moon's administration has not fully deployed a U.S. anti-missile system and insisted on an environmental impact assessment first, the president said that getting the assessment done "does not mean that we will postpone or reverse the decision to deploy."
Moon, who is set to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington later this month, emphasized that the assessment is part of "due process" necessary for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.