Sept. 14 (UPI) -- South Korea's new defense minister nominee defended a bilateral military intelligence agreement with Japan and said North Korea is unlikely to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Suh Wook, President Moon Jae-in's choice for the ministerial position, said Monday in a written statement to the National Assembly's defense committee that the General Security of Military Information Agreement had "strategic value in terms of cooperation" with the United States and Japan, News 1 reported.
Suh also said the agreement provides an institutional foundation for the exchange of information within a framework of trilateral cooperation. Since the signing of the agreement, Tokyo and Seoul have been able to conduct intelligence sharing on North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles.
GSOMIA became an issue between South Korea and Japan in 2019, when tensions spiked over a wide range of political and economic issues. In November, South Korea agreed to conditionally extend the military pact, but the fate of the agreement remains uncertain. Seoul has requested Japan remove export restrictions targeting South Korean companies. Japan has not complied with the South Korean request.
Suh, who would replace Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, also said in his statement submitted Monday that there are few signs a North Korea SLBM launch is imminent, Newsis reported.
Suh said North Korea is estimated to still be in the stage of prototype development for SLBMs. There are also no signs of pending mass production of the weapons, Suh said.
Earlier this month, U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report published to its Beyond Parallel website that North Korean activities were detected at Sinpo shipyard. The report described the changes as "apparent launch preparations."
On Monday, Suh said the activities could be a sign of typhoon recovery rather than preparations for launch, according to Newsis.