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US security adviser Bolton heads for S. Korea, Japan amid trade row

US National Security Adviser John Bolton left for South Korea and Japan on Saturday, a US official said, amid a growing trade dispute between Seoul and Tokyo over wartime forced labor.

White House National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said on Twitter that Bolton "departed today for Japan and South Korea to continue conversations with critical allies and friends."

The visit by Bolton to South Korea and Japan came a day after US President Donald Trump said he is willing, if needed, to help resolve escalating tensions between South Korea and Japan.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton (Yonhap)
US National Security Adviser John Bolton (Yonhap)

South Korea has blasted Japan for weaponizing trade after Tokyo recently tightened controls on exports to Seoul of key high-tech materials crucial for the production of semiconductors and displays, in apparent retaliation for a series of South Korean court rulings last year over Japan's wartime forced labor.

Japan's NHK reported that Bolton may arrive in South Korea on Tuesday for a two-day stay after visiting Tokyo.

Bolton's visit also comes amid stalled nuclear talks between the US and North Korea.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to resume working-level talks on the North's denuclearization when they held a surprise meeting at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom on June 30.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed hope that negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program will resume soon, citing the North Korean leader's earlier commitment.

Besides North Korea, some observers said that Bolton could make a request for Seoul to join the US initiative to form an international military coalition to ensure free navigation in the strategically crucial Strait of Hormuz off Iran. (Yonhap)