Talks on sharing intel with Japan are restarted

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Talks on sharing intel with Japan are restarted

The South Korean government on Thursday announced it will resume negotiations on a sensitive military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan for the first time in four years to better respond to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats.

“North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and launched over 20 ballistic missiles this year alone, and its nuclear and missile threats are escalating by the day, so our security situation is becoming more critical,” said Moon Sang-gyun, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, as he announced Seoul’s decision to restart talks on signing a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Tokyo.

A meeting of the National Security Council at the Blue House was convened earlier in the day to reach the decision to resume negotiations.

Sealing a bilateral intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan has been a sensitive issue for Korea in the past, and efforts to negotiate a GSOMIA between Seoul and Tokyo were halted since June 2012, when negotiations broke off.

A deal to share information with Tokyo fell apart at the last minute amid domestic outcry over the secretive nature of the closed-door negotiations and ongoing bilateral tensions and mistrust over unresolved historical and territorial disputes with Japan stemming back to colonial rule.

South Korea has continued to hesitate to sign a bilateral GSOMIA to share intelligence directly with Tokyo, though it agreed to a trilateral information-sharing arrangement with Washington as an intermediary in December 2014.

“The decision to resume talks that would allow the two countries to exchange military intelligence came in the face of unprecedented nuclear and missile threats from North Korea,” said Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam in a press conference in Tokyo Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Lim held a trilateral meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama to discuss a coordinated response to the threat posed by the North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Sugiyama said Japan will “sincerely respond” to the decision to resume GSOMIA negotiations.

Blinken said during the press conference, “We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, we will not accept North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, period,” adding that the purpose of increasing pressure on Pyongyang is to “bring it back to the table to negotiate in good faith” the denuclearization of the regime.

However, the trilateral meeting was not related to the intelligence-sharing agreement, said the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It said that Seoul and Tokyo had numerous discussions on resuming negotiations because of Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test earlier this year on Jan. 6 and fifth test on Sept. 9.

Cho June-hyuck, spokesman of the Korean Foreign Ministry, said at a briefing Thursday, “Japan has raised the military necessity of signing a GSOMIA many times. There was a consensus that in order to come up with a more effective response to North Korea’s increasing nuclear and missile threat, in addition to the intelligence sharing agreement between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, a GSOMIA between Korea and Japan is needed as well.”

If this bilateral pact is sealed, it is expected to streamline exchange of information between Seoul and Tokyo without Washington as an intermediary. Should North Korea launch a ballistic missile, the two sides would be able to exchange information tracing its movement in real-time.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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