South Korean officials are backing away from some tough language by President Roh Moo-Hyun over territorial dispute with Japan. But as VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, they continue to say they will not hesitate to confront Tokyo when necessary.

A day after President Roh Moo-hyun threatened a "diplomatic war" with Japan over a set of tiny islands, Cho Kisuk, a senior presidential aide, told reporters the word "war" was not exactly what the president meant.

Ms. Cho says President Roh wanted to make clear that he would not avoid confronting Japan over its failure to reflect on its past colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

She says the president's use of strong words is a feature of his personality, and that he will take his words into consideration in the future.

Last month, Japan's Shimane Prefecture voted to designate what it calls "Takeshima Day." Takeshima is the Japanese name for the disputed islands, which Koreans call Dokdo. The vote was a symbolic measure that the Japanese national government has not endorsed.

In a posting on an Internet site Wednesday, Mr. Roh called the Shimane vote an attempt to justify Japan's militaristic past.

Despite her calmer language Thursday, Ms. Cho says the president's patience has been tested by Japan's attitude.

Ms. Cho says the president decided to depart from his usual quiet diplomacy with Japan because Tokyo was not taking Korean sentiments into account.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Thursday Tokyo will do its utmost to restore harmonious relations with South Korea.

Mr. Hosoda says that while thoroughly analyzing Mr. Roh's statement, Japan must listen to the South Korean government's circumstances and argument. The two countries must exchange views.

During Japan's colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, the Korean culture was harshly suppressed. South Korean authorities have criticized Japan for decades for failing to apologize or pay compensation to Koreans for abuses during the colonial period.

Over the past decade, however, relations between the two countries have warmed considerably. The island dispute is the first major public disagreement they have had for several years.