The leaders of Japan and South Korea prayed at the memorial for the victims of the Korean atomic bomb in Hiroshima

HIROSHIMA, Japan — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol prayed together Sunday at a memorial to the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing of Korea in Hiroshima, on the sidelines of a Group of Seven summit, as the two leaders continued efforts to mend repeatedly damaged ties. Controversies arising from Japan’s wartime brutality.

Yoon is in Hiroshima with the leaders of seven other host nations and G7 countries for “briefing” sessions on Sunday, the final day of the three-day summit.

Accompanied by their first ladies, Yoon and Kishida stood in front of the memorial where they laid bouquets of white flowers and bowed their heads as they paid tribute to the tens of thousands of Koreans who died in the attack 78 years ago.

Yoon is the first South Korean leader to visit the memorial, underscoring the thaw in their rocky relationship.

At the start of his talks with Kishida on Sunday morning, Yoon praised the Japanese prime minister for his “sincere determination” to improve relations. The meeting is the third between them in two months since Yoon made an ice-breaking visit to Tokyo. He said he hoped to deepen cooperation not only between the two sides but also on global issues “based on our deep relationship of trust.”

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The leaders’ visit to the Korean memorial was “extremely important for Japan-South Korea relations and praying for global peace,” Kishida said at the talks.

Kishida later on Sunday accompanied Yoon and other visiting leaders to visit the atomic bomb museum dedicated to the victims and pray at the main cenotaph of the Peace Memorial Park, which is the focus of the Kishidai summit as it seeks to emphasize nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Relations have thawed rapidly between the countries since March, when Yoon’s government announced a local fund to compensate some of the former workers. Tokyo and Seoul, under pressure from Washington, feel an urgent need to improve ties amid growing security threats to the region.

Kishida and Yoon will join U.S. President Joe Biden later on Sunday to discuss further deepening security cooperation, including strengthening the U.S. nuclear deterrent to its two key allies in the region.

Kishida and Yoon have met in back-to-back summits in Tokyo and Seoul in recent months to resolve disputes that have included the sexual abuse of “comfort women” in Tokyo’s World War II military brothels.

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About 20,000 Koreans are believed to have died in Hiroshima in the first atomic attack. A wartime military center, the city was home to a large number of Korean workers, including those forced to work in mines and factories during Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

The first US atomic bombing on August 6, 1945 killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima. Three days later, another 70,000 people were killed in a second nuclear attack on Nagasaki in southwestern Japan. Japan surrendered on August 15, ending its nearly half-century attempt to conquer Asia.


Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.