|President Moon Jae-in meets with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who visited Seoul for annual talks between the defense chiefs of the two countries, at Cheong Wa Dae, Friday, after the 51st Security Consultative Meeting earlier the day. Yonhap|
Esper told Moon US would ask Japan to resolve GSOMIA issue
By Kim Yoo-chul
President Moon Jae-in told U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper that South Korea will not renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan, saying Tokyo's imposition of restrictions on certain exports to South Korean companies in July made it a matter of "mutual trust."
"At the meeting in Cheong Wa Dae with Secretary Esper and senior U.S. military officials, President Moon spoke about his government's stance regarding the GSOMIA. He told Esper that Seoul will not renew the bilateral intelligence-sharing pact as the issue was a matter of mutual trust. Esper understood," presidential spokeswoman Ko Min-jung told reporters after their meeting.
The meeting, starting at 4 p.m. and lasting 50 minutes, covered key pending issues including ways to maintain solid security cooperation regardless of external uncertainties.
Esper and the military officials went to Cheong Wa Dae after a policy meeting with Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo at the ministry's Yongsan headquarters.
"Esper told President Moon that Washington was well aware of the importance of the GSOMIA issue and he told the President that the United States would ask Japan for concerted efforts in addressing this issue," Ko said.
President Moon also appreciated Washington's plan to possibly alter U.S. military exercises in South Korea if it would help advance a diplomatic deal with North Korea to scrap Pyongyang's nuclear program.
Before arriving in Seoul, Esper told reporters accompanying him that any changes in military exercises or training would be done in ways that didn't jeopardize combat preparedness, saying he would discuss this with Moon.
"Moon and Esper talked about what the North Korean response to this would be. Esper also said he appreciated Moon and U.S. President Trump's continued and concerted efforts to advancing a peace process on the Korean Peninsula," the spokeswoman Ko said in the briefing.
"South Korea was hoping to see improvements in Seoul-Tokyo ties. We have couple of more days before the official termination of the GSOMIA. Moon and Esper reached a broad consensus for U.S.' possible role in persuading Japan to get things much better," Ko said.
Earlier, Moon dropped hints about the termination of the GSOMIA, saying the issue was about "sovereignty and principle." He said that last year's South Korean Supreme Court's rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate surviving South Korean laborers forced to work for them during wartime was confirmation that the 1965 diplomatic treaty between Seoul and Tokyo didn't cover individuals' right to seek damages.
Tokyo reacted angrily to the rulings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe demanding South Korea take "necessary measures" regarding the order, saying Seoul was violating an international agreement. It said all outstanding bilateral issues were settled in the 1965 treaty. Although Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon agreed with Abe to resolve the ongoing friction via open dialogue a few weeks ago on a visit to Tokyo, no visible progress has been made so far.
"If South Korea reverses course without any change in Seoul-Tokyo relations that means our ending of the GSOMIA was not thought through. Actually, this wasn't the case," another presidential aide said.
Meanwhile, Esper pressed his South Korean counterpart Jeong to maintain the bilateral intelligence sharing pact.
"The GSOMIA is an important tool by which South Korea, the U.S. and Japan share effective information, particularly in times of war. An expiration of the GSOMIA will have an impact on our effectiveness, so we urge all sides to sit down and work through their differences," Esper told reporters in a joint press conference at the defense ministry.
"The only ones who will benefit from the expiration of the GSOMIA and continued friction between Seoul and Tokyo are Pyongyang and Beijing," Esper added. "That reason alone should be powerful enough for us to sit down and make sure we restore our alliance to where it was so we can work together to respond to our common threats and challenges."
Defense Minister Jeong said he had candid discussions about the South's decision to end the pact, adding that Seoul would make "reasonable efforts" to narrow differences with Tokyo before the pact officially ends, Nov. 23.
He plans to talk with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono during a regional defense ministers meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. A trilateral meeting among the Seoul-Washington-Tokyo defense chiefs is also being reviewed.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is set to meet her Japanese counterpart in Nagoya. A planned meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was canceled at the last minute by the U.S.