U.S. pressuring both S. Korea, Japan to renew intel-sharing pact: defense minister

BANGKOK-- The United States has been pressuring both South Korea and Japan hard to narrow their differences so as to renew their soon-to-expire intelligence sharing pact, but there are few signs of change in their stances in sight, Seoul's defense minister has said.

Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo made the remarks during a press gaggle on Sunday in the Thai capital, Bangkok, after holding a one-on-one meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, and trilateral talks with Kono and the U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

The talks were widely seen as a last chance for them to find a breakthrough, with just six days left to go before the planned expiry of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).

"No cool answers were there (from Kono), though we've tried very hard," Jeong said when asked about any fresh suggestions from the Japanese side regarding the pact.

In August, South Korea announced its decision to end the three-year-old pact following Japan's decision to place export curbs on Seoul citing security concerns. Tokyo's move is seen as political retaliation for last year's Korean Supreme Court rulings against Japanese firms over wartime forced labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Japan wants to maintain the pact, but it has not budged an inch on the curbs. Tokyo reportedly made it clear to the U.S. recently that it would not retract its restrictions against Seoul for the sake of the renewal of the agreement.

"We remain just as far apart as ever, if you will," the minister said, adding that he also failed to put forth any new options.

"I hope such an unfortunate situation will not occur. But I don't see any specific changes as of now," he stated. The pact is to expire on Saturday.

South Korea has maintained the position that any reconsideration of its termination decision would only be possible if Japan first changes its course.

Noting that there have been active negotiations behind the scenes between their diplomatic authorities, however, Minister Jeong voiced hope for a result from "such tremendous efforts."

As neither side has compromised on the issue, eyes have been on the U.S. for its mediating role.

"The U.S. has been strongly pressing the both sides, not only South Korea but Japan, as maintaining a trilateral security cooperation mechanism is very important," Jeong said. "The U.S. has continued to deliver messages to Japan."

Amid Washington's repeated expression of displeasure over Seoul's decision publicly, experts have called on the three sides together to come up with "plausible causes" that the Seoul government can use to convince its people about a possible reversal of its decision.

Calling the decision regarding GSOMIA "inevitable," Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung said in a recent radio interview, "If we revoke our decision unilaterally without any change in Japan's exports restrictions or in relations between South Korea and Japan, it would only prove that we didn't make our original decision prudently enough."

During Sunday's meeting, Esper repeated the U.S. appeal to Seoul and Tokyo, according to Jeong, though he did not elaborate on what solutions, if any, the U.S. suggested.

In his opening remarks of the trilateral meeting, Esper urged his two Asian allies to overcome bilateral issues that harm the efforts of the three countries and "play into the hands of Pyongyang and Beijing."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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