|This image, released on Sept. 11, 2019, by the North Korean Official News Service (KCNA), shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un supervising the test-firing of a "super-large multiple rocket launcher." UPI-Yonhap|
By Do Je-hae, Kim Yoo-chul
The South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers plan to meet in New York next week, on the sidelines of their participation in this year's United Nations General Assembly, for talks about "issues of mutual interest," a diplomatic source in Seoul said Wednesday.
"Preparatory work is underway for a meeting between South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi on the sidelines of the General Assembly," the source told The Korea Times, adding further details will be announced after key agenda items are determined.
A ministry official said working-level discussions were underway to decide "relevant issues."
Motegi recently replaced Taro Kono, and the meeting comes amid growing calls from the United States for Seoul to reconsider its recent decision not to renew a military intelligence-sharing deal with Tokyo.
During a National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee meeting Monday, lawmakers said it would be difficult for the Moon administration to disregard calls from the U.S. to restore the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan and that President Donald Trump will make a formal request to Moon regarding this.
"We will explain that the decision was made in consideration of the changes in security environment following Japan's retaliatory export measures," Kang told the lawmakers. "We can reconsider the decision if trust between the two countries is restored."
The bilateral meeting is likely to come after Motegi meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a phone call, the two recently exchanged their views on the Middle East with Pompeo providing a briefing to Mortegi. But it is unknown whether or not they talked about Seoul's termination of the GSOMIA.
Cheong Wa Dae sources said while the presidential office was open to "all possibilities," including a trilateral summit between President Moon Jae-in, President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the Assembly, the chances were slim that Moon would a bilateral talks with Abe.
Since Cheong Wa Dae announced the decision to end the GSOMIA, Washington has openly expressed disappointment and has underlined its role in trilateral security cooperation. Although Seoul has decided not to renew the deal, it remains valid until Nov. 23.
"There is still some time until the expiration date, so the situation is changeable," a diplomatic source familiar with the Moon administration's Japan policy said. "In particular, the decision on the GSOMIA could change if Korea-Japan relations improve and Japan's retaliatory measures are resolved in a positive way."
South Korea said its decision to end the GSOMIA was the country's response to Japan's decision to withdraw the country from its list of most trusted trading partners. Seoul believes Tokyo's trade moves were in retaliation to South Korea's Supreme Court's rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate Korean laborers forced to work for them during Japan's colonial rule of the peninsula.
The U.S. has expressed concern that ending the GSOMIA would jeopardize trilateral cooperation and leave it, Japan and South Korea less prepared to respond to North Korean provocations.
Experts said the bottom line is that South Korea, Japan and the U.S. face shared security challenges that require close coordination on intelligence. Also, they noted if Seoul does not reverse the GSOMIA decision, it will have an impact on the Korea-U.S. alliance.
"If South Korea and Japan fail to reach some compromise before the GSOMIA expires on Nov. 23, there is a high possibility that the U.S.-Korea alliance will face a new test," Kim Sung-han, dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University, wrote in his latest column.