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A Japanese official in Washington, however, offered similar justification for Japan’s claim.

“From our perspective, Takeshima is an integral and inherent part of Japanese territory in light of historical evidence and in accordance with international law,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Neither South Korea nor Japan say there is any strategic interest in their wish to control the islets.

Tensions between South Korea and Japan escalated Aug. 10 when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made an unprecedented trip to the islands in the first visit by a South Korean leader.

Japan slammed that visit as illegal and claimed South Korea had “marred our mutual ties.”

Mr. Hong defended Mr. Lee’s decision to visit the islands.

Korea’s president should be able to visit any part of his country,” he said.

Later in August, South Korea rejected a Japanese proposal to take the quarrel before the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

South Korean officials say there is nothing to discuss.

“We don’t accept that this is a legal dispute,” Mr. Hong said.