TOKYO -- Japan's conservative government will abide by official apologies that the country's leaders made two decades ago to the victims of World War II in Asia, top officials said Tuesday, backing away from earlier suggestions that the government might try to revise or even repudiate the apologies.
Japan formally apologized in 1993 to the women who were forced into wartime brothels for Japanese soldiers, and in 1995 to nations that suffered from Japanese aggression during the war. Both apologies rankled Japanese ultranationalists, and there were concerns that the hawkish current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, would try to appeal to them by whitewashing Japan's wartime atrocities, a step that would probably infuriate Japan's neighbors.
The United States shared those concerns, and it urged the Abe government to show restraint on historical issues so that Japan would not further isolate itself diplomatically in the region.
The concerns intensified last month when members of Mr. Abe's cabinet visited a Tokyo shrine that honors Japanese war dead, including some who were executed for war crimes, drawing angry reactions from China and South Korea. Those nations also responded strongly a few days later when Mr. Abe seemed to question in Parliament whether Japan was actually the aggressor during the war, saying that the definition of "invasion" was relative and suggesting that his cabinet might not stand by the 1995 apology in its entirety.
On Tuesday, the Japanese foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, apparently sought to dispel those concerns, telling reporters that Mr. Abe shared the views expressed in the 1995 apology, which was made by a Socialist prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama. At a separate news conference, the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said the Abe government would not revise the 1993 apology, which formally recognized the military's responsibility in forcing women into sexual slavery. Mr. Abe, whose political base is in the right wing of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, had called for revising one or both of those apologies before he became prime minister after elections in December.
This led to widespread concerns in Washington of a breakdown in ties between Japan and South Korea, two important allies whom the United States wants to cooperate as it faces a nuclear-armed North Korea and China's fast-growing military. Last week in Washington, a former American ambassador to Japan, Thomas Schieffer, said revising the 1993 apology to the women could damage Japanese ties to the United States.
Such threats appear to have gotten the attention of the Abe government, which came to power promising to manage Japan's relationship with the United States better.
"The Japanese government has accepted the facts of history in a spirit of humility, expressed once again our feelings of deep remorse and our heartfelt apology," Mr. Kishida, the foreign minister, said on Tuesday. "Prime Minister Abe shares that view."world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.