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Senior U.S. officials visit Seoul as intelligence-sharing decision looms

By Thomas Maresca
Senior U.S. officials visit Seoul as intelligence-sharing decision looms
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (R) talks with Keith Krach (2nd from L), U.S. under secretary of state for economic growth, energy security and the environment, and David Stilwell (L), U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the foreign ministry in Seoul on Tuesday. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell and other senior U.S. State Department officials met with counterparts in Seoul on Wednesday as the deadline for South Korea renewing a key intelligence-sharing pact with Japan looms later this month.

Seoul announced its intention to withdraw from the General Security of Military Information Agreement with Tokyo in August, in a move perceived by many as retaliation for Japan's earlier removal of South Korea from a "white list" of trusted trade partners.

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Washington has pushed for South Korea to stay in the pact, calling it valuable for security in the region. The pact is set to expire on Nov. 23 unless Seoul's notice of termination is withdrawn.

Stilwell met with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young on Wednesday morning.

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Afterward, he told reporters that the brief meeting earlier this week between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Bangkok was an "encouraging" sign moving forward.

"Very encouraged while we were there to note that President Moon and Prime Minister Abe had the opportunity to talk, and that's an encouraging sign as we watched the relationship improve," Stilwell told reporters, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

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While in Japan last week, Stilwell called for South Korea to remain in the pact. "We do of course encourage the Korean side to return to this agreement because it benefits us, benefits [Japan] and it certainly benefits [South Korea] as well," he said. "We strongly encourage both sides to find creative solutions to this."

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The State Department issued a statement in August saying that the decision "reflects a serious misapprehension on the part of the Moon administration regarding the serious security challenges we face in Northeast Asia." The Pentagon also expressed "strong concern" and "disappointment."

Also attending the meeting with Kang were Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris and Keith Krach, under secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment.

In a statement Wednesday, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Kang described Seoul's efforts to solve its disputes with Japan at the meeting.

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Kang "explained the efforts we have made to prepare a rational solution through dialogue, and the U.S. agreed that such efforts are encouraging," the statement read.

Kang also highlighted bilateral cooperation between the United States and South Korea, including the linkage between Seoul's New Southern Policy and Washington's Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Both countries issued a fact sheet on Monday demonstrating the overlap between the two policies on areas ranging from energy and infrastructure development to good governance and regional security.

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"It's significant in the areas we identify of mutual interest and areas of potential cooperation," Stilwell told reporters.

The diplomat met with other officials later on Wednesday, including Deputy Defense Minister Chung Suk-hwan. He is on an Asian trip that has included stops in Japan, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand. Stilwell will travel to Beijing on Thursday.

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