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Japan-South Korea rift

Moon seeks to avoid GSOMIA expiration 'till last moment'

South Korea and Japan will still cooperate on regional security, president says

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks at a town hall meeting in Seoul on Nov. 19. (Yonhap via Kyodo)

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday held out a slim hope of a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan being extended, but said the two countries can still cooperate on security even if it does expire as scheduled on Saturday.

In a televised town hall meeting, Moon said South Korea still seeks to avoid termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement "till the last moment."

But even if the issue cannot be settled, he said, South Korea and Japan would still be able to cooperate on regional security.

"Even if GSOMIA expires, we will continue security cooperation with Japan," he said.

Tokyo and Washington have both urged Seoul to reconsider its decision to terminate the three-year-old pact as they are concerned about a possible weakening of the trilateral security cooperation.

The accord is mainly aimed at countering the North Korean nuclear and missile threat and facilitating three-way defense cooperation with the United States.

It had been automatically renewed annually since it was signed on Nov. 23, 2016, and was due to be extended unless one of the countries decided to abandon it 90 days prior to its extension.

Seoul insists it will only reconsider its August decision to scrap the agreement if Tokyo first reverses its move earlier this year to tighten controls on exports of some materials needed by South Korean manufacturers of semiconductors and display panels.

Tokyo cites security grounds for its move, but Seoul views it as political retaliation for last year's Korean Supreme Court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to compensate victims who were forced to work during Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

In his remarks Tuesday, Moon called it "contradictory" for Japan to seek the sharing of military information while simultaneously saying South Korea is not trustworthy in terms of security.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Japanese and South Korean defense authorities severely deteriorated last December when the South Korean navy allegedly locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese Self-Defense Forces patrol plane.

Earlier Tuesday, the top U.S. envoy in South Korea said that he believes there is still a chance that Seoul could reverse its decision to terminate GSOMIA.

"There is always a chance and we have a few days left and we will have to see where it goes," Ambassador Harry Harris told Yonhap News Agency in an interview.

Harris, a retired admiral of the U.S. Navy, expressed regret that Seoul has elevated its long-simmering historical conflicts with Tokyo into the security realm, affecting trilateral security cooperation with Washington's two Asian allies.

"So now it affects the U.S. and our ability to defend Korea, and puts our troops at risk... so that is why we reacted quickly and strongly in expressing disappointment at Seoul's decision," he said.

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