Photo/IllutrationSouth Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang responds to a question in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Seoul. (Hajimu Takeda)

SEOUL--The speaker of South Korea's National Assembly apologized for calling on then Emperor Akihito in February to apologize to former "comfort women" to resolve the long-standing controversy over the issue.

Moon Hee-sang was interviewed by The Asahi Shimbun in late October prior to his visit to Japan for a gathering on Nov. 4 of the heads of national assemblies from the Group of 20 member nations.

Regarding his February comment, Moon said, "I would like to transmit my apology to those whose feelings have been hurt."

The issue of Korean women forced to provide sex to Japanese military personnel before and during World War II has been a contentious one between the two nations for years.

Moon said that despite various agreements and statements, it has yet to be fully resolved.

"One reason are the scars, resentment and sorrow that remains in the hearts of the victims," Moon said. "I made that comment because I wanted to emphasize that a core factor in resolving the issue would be easing that pain in their hearts."

He added that he felt the issue could be resolved if there was "a heartfelt apology" from Japan.

The controversial remark came when Moon was being interviewed by a U.S. media organization. In the interview, Moon described Akihito, now the emperor emeritus, as the "son of a war criminal."

Moon was asked in the Asahi interview what he meant by that remark, but he did not give a direct answer.

Meanwhile, Moon also revealed that he had put together draft legislation to provide support to former wartime Korean laborers who worked for Japanese companies. He said the draft would convince not only the plaintiffs in lawsuits against those companies seeking compensation, but also South Korean public opinion.

Several rulings by South Korea's Supreme Court ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation have led to harsh criticism from the Japanese government and a worsening of diplomatic relations to the lowest levels since ties were restored in 1965.

While he did not provide details about his draft, a number of such bills have been submitted in South Korea by both the ruling and opposition parties.

According to National Assembly sources, the legislation would consider providing support to the plaintiffs by using funds gathered from Japanese companies that are the defendants in the lawsuits as well as through the participation of South Korean companies and donations from the South Korean public.

"I will decide on when to submit the legislation after assessing the response from the Japanese side," Moon said.

Initially, Moon had sought during his stay in Japan to meet with Akiko Santo, the president of the Upper House. However, Santo refused to meet with the South Korean speaker.

In October, she sent Moon a letter asking that he retract his February comment about the emperor.

(This article was written by Takeshi Kamiya and Hajimu Takeda.)