Setting aside Japan pact, minister heads to Asean

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Setting aside Japan pact, minister heads to Asean

Having at least temporarily patched up controversy over Korea’s planned signing of a military intelligence-sharing deal with Japan, Seoul’s minister of foreign affairs and trade, Kim Sung-hwan, will be able to attend regional security talks in Cambodia hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations later this week.

Until Friday afternoon, there was a high possibility that Kim would not be able to attend the three-day Asean Regional Forum in Phnom Penh as he would be called upon to testify at the National Assembly about the mishandling of the General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan.

Government offices, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of National Defense and the presidential office, were accused of rushing the agreement through a cabinet meeting on June 26, and lawmakers have argued that the government tried to push the deal forward without properly considering public sentiment toward Japan, Korea’s colonial ruler from 1910 to 1945.

But a government probe, which concluded that officials at the Blue House and the Foreign Ministry made misjudgments, paved the way for a series of resignations that shifted the spotlight from Kim.

Kim Tae-hyo, one of President Lee Myung-bak’s key foreign policy aides, resigned to take responsibility for the scandal. Cho Sei-young, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asian bureau who played a working-level role in pursuing the pact, was also replaced.

Given the developments, the Foreign Ministry confirmed on Friday evening that Kim Sung-hwan will be able to join the talks on Thursday, when 27 foreign ministers from Asia-Pacific nations, including North Korea, are scheduled to meet.

This year’s annual forum will be the first time that high-level diplomats from the two Koreas could have face-to-face meetings since Kim Jong-il’s death in December last year. The communist regime’s foreign minister, Park Ui-chun, is scheduled to arrive in Phnom Penh tomorrow, according to Seoul officials.

The Seoul Foreign Ministry, however, has said the minister has no plans to hold a bilateral meeting with North Korea during the forum, but that inter-Korean contacts through “unofficial channels” might still be possible. The ARF statement, to be adopted on Thursday, is expected to call for a resumption of the six-party talks.

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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