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(LEAD) S. Korea, Japan build common understanding on military pact

All Headlines 18:30 January 10, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with results of talks, photo in first 13 paras; ADDS details in final two paras; CHANGES headline)
By Kim Deok-hyun

SEOUL, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean and Japanese defense chiefs have built a common understanding on working toward a military cooperation agreement, officials in Seoul said Monday, which would be the first between the countries since Tokyo's brutal occupation of Korea in the early 20th century.

The prospect of signing the pact, in which the sides would exchange military goods and services during peacetime operations, was brightened during talks in Seoul between Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa earlier in the day, officials said.

The hour-long talks by the defense chiefs, held for the first time in nearly two years, come as Seoul and Tokyo explore closer military cooperation in response to Pyongyang's recent provocations, particularly the Nov. 23 bombardment of a South Korean island and the disclosure of its new uranium enrichment facility.

Called the "Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA)," the accord is aimed at allowing South Korean and Japanese armed forces to share supplies and services such as food, fuel and transportation during international operations like peacekeeping and disaster relief efforts.

"Regarding the agreement for sharing bilateral military supplies and services, the two nations agreed to hold specific consultations toward signing it," said a senior official at Seoul's defense ministry.

Kim and Kitazawa also agreed to hold further consultations on signing another pact to facilitate exchanging military secrets, the official said. The "General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA)," if signed, will allow South Korea and Japan to systematically exchange intelligence on North Korea's nuclear programs and weapons of mass destruction, according to the official.

It was uncertain, however, when the pacts may be concluded. Officials said no deadline was set.

Asked about the chances of signing the ACSA by the end of this year, the official replied, "We are still not at a stage of signing the pact by then. Only a common understanding was built to proceed with consultations."

The official's cautious remark underscored how sensitive the signing of such military agreements are to South Koreans.

Many South Koreans still harbor deep resentment toward Japan because of its brutal colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945. A series of history and territorial disputes stemming from the colonial rule have plagued relations between the two countries for decades, though they are key trade partners to each other and share common security concerns regarding North Korea.

In a statement released after Monday's talks, the defense ministry said Kim and Kitazawa agreed to a "closer coordination" to jointly respond to a series of provocative actions by North Korea.

"In particular, the two ministers shared views that North Korea's recent provocations, including the artillery strike on Yeonpyeong Island and the revelation of its uranium enrichment facility, can never be accepted," the statement said.

North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island near the Yellow Sea border on Nov. 23, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians. A week before the shelling, Pyongyang disclosed its new uranium enrichment plant that could give the regime a second source for building a nuclear bomb in addition to its plutonium-based program.

Responding to the North's military aggression, South Korea and Japan sent their own observers to each other's military drills with the U.S. for the first time last year.

On his visit to Seoul after the Yeonpyeong attack, U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen proposed joint military drills among South Korea, Japan and the U.S. to increase deterrence against North Korea.

South Korean officials, however, expressed reservations because such a move would run counter to Japan's pacifist constitution that strictly prohibits the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

On Tuesday, Kitazawa plans to visit the truce village of Panmunjom, which sits in the middle of the heavily fortified border dividing the two Koreas.

He is also due to visit the South Korean Navy's 2nd Fleet in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, where the wreckage of the Cheonan warship is on display, before wrapping up his two-day visit to South Korea. The corvette sank in the Yellow Sea in March of last year from what multinational investigators concluded was a torpedo attack by North Korea, leaving 46 sailors dead.

kdh@yna.co.kr
(END)

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