MB decries handling of Japan pact

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MB decries handling of Japan pact

A day after the main opposition Democratic United Party strongly condemned the government for trying to push ahead with the Korea-Japan military agreement without support from the public, President Lee Myung-bak strongly rebuked his senior secretaries over their poor handling of the issue, Park Jeong-ha, Blue House spokesman, said yesterday.

“Similar agreements were signed with 24 countries, including Russia,” Park quoted Lee as saying at the senior secretariat meeting yesterday.

“We will also need to sign it with China in the future. It is an agreement that is beneficial to our country. It is not something that can be done without listening to public opinion by submitting it to the cabinet meeting as an emergency item.”

Last Tuesday, the Korean Cabinet passed the military deal titled the General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan, which lays out the procedural framework for exchanging military information between the two countries, including that of North Korea.

The two countries were to sign the pact last Friday, but with less than an hour left before the prearranged signing time, South Korea’s foreign ministry abruptly postponed the signing due to opposition from the political circle and adverse public sentiment toward Japan, South Korea’s colonial ruler from 1910 to 1945.

Criticism has followed ever since that the government tried to covertly pass the sensitive pact without giving people prior warning. On Sunday, DUP Chairman Lee Hae-chan even demanded Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik step down to take responsibility.

As part of a move to prevent the DUP from sparking the controversial matter into a political battle ahead of the presidential election in December, President Lee yesterday also ordered his aides to reveal the contents of the agreement to the National Assembly and the public in great detail in order to make sure there is no misunderstanding, Park said.

“Lee was briefed by his senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security during his overseas trip that the pact would be signed around June 29, after it goes through the required processes, including cabinet approval,” Park said, adding that the president was not fully aware of the specific steps of the passage. Lee visited Central and South America from June 17 to 27.

The Blue House made clear that the content of the agreement itself was not an issue, while the last-minute postponement of the signing was only due to a procedural flaw.

“We hope the conclusion will be made in the right direction after a proper explanation,” Park said. “There was no argument about the pact’s contents. I don’t think it is an issue to argue over the procedural flaws only.”

Sources at the Blue House said the air was thick with tension during the meeting.

“The president admitted the procedural flaw, which means he was expressing regret,” a presidential aide said.

Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan also apologized to the people yesterday for not trying hard enough to seek public support for the agreement with Japan.

“I sincerely apologize to our people for failing to smoothly proceed with the planned signing of a military agreement with Japan,” Kim told reporters yesterday. “I humbly accept criticism that our ministry didn’t make efforts to seek people’s understanding and support for the pact.”

Kim’s apology is seen as a move to temporarily halt the recent blame game among ministries including defense and foreign affairs and the presidential office over who is responsible for pursuing the controversial pact.

By Ser Myo-ja, Lee Eun-joo [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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