South Korean, Japanese leaders meet, agree on need to improve ties -Yonhap

WASHINGTON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held the first one-on-one talks between their countries' leaders since 2019 on Wednesday and agreed on the need to improve relations by resolving pending issues, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

The meeting took place in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Yoon became president in May and has been keen to improve relations with Tokyo, which have been plagued by disputes stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean peninsula, at a time when both countries face threats from North Korea. Japan has also stressed the importance of strategic cooperation.

"The two leaders agreed on the need to improve bilateral relations by resolving pending issues, and agreed to instruct their diplomats to accelerate talks between them to that end while also continuing discussions between themselves," Yonhap quoted Yoon's deputy spokesperson, Lee Jae-myoung, as saying.

Lee said the leaders shared serious concerns about North Korea's nuclear program, including its recent law authorizing first use of nuclear weapons and the possibility of a resumption of nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.

South Korea's presidential office said the "informal talks" lasted 30 minutes.

Yonhap said Yoon and Kishida met several times on the sidelines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Madrid in June, which included a trilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, but Wednesday's meeting was the first time they had sat down for one-on-one talks. (Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Grant McCool)