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(LEAD) S. Korea, Japan make progress in talks on military intel pact

All Headlines 19:18 November 09, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; ADDS defense ministry's comments in 2nd para, photo caption)

SEOUL, Nov. 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Japan made progress Wednesday in negotiations on a bilateral pact to share military intelligence on North Korea, Seoul officials said.

"The two sides have thoroughly reviewed the wording of the pact and found a consensus on major terms," the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement after a second round of working-level talks at the ministry's headquarters in Seoul.

They will continue to consult to arrange the next meeting, the ministry said, expressing hopes that they would finalize the pact's wording soon.

Expectations have been growing that it won't take long before they conclude the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), since they resumed negotiations in Tokyo last week after a botched attempt four years ago in the face of public opposition in Seoul.

In 2012 the two nations initialed the pact, but Seoul suspended its signing due to strong opposition from opposition parties and civic groups. They claimed the deal was arranged too hastily and behind the scenes.

Seoul and Tokyo, which are still in historical rows, are seeking to conclude the pact by the end of this year in a move that they say is aimed at countering North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threats.

This undated image shows a submarine-launched ballistic missile and the North Korean flag. (Yonhap)

North Korea has made strides in developing its nuclear and missile programs. Pyongyang conducted two nuclear tests this year alone following detonations of nuclear devices in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Defying international condemnation, North Korea has also test-fired more than 20 ballistic missiles so far this year including intermediate-range Musudan and submarine-launched missiles.

The military pact, if clinched, will likely set the stage for both countries to share more extensive military information on North Korea. Seoul will get access to intelligence collected by Japan's surveillance satellites and Aegis-equipped destroyers.

In December 2014, South Korea, the U.S. and Japan signed a preliminary deal that calls for voluntary sharing of military secrets on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

The deal paved the way for Seoul and Tokyo to share such intelligence via the U.S. after their bilateral pact fell through in 2012.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo told lawmakers on Tuesday that the pact would help Seoul counter threats from North Korea's submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

But opposition lawmakers said that it is still inappropriate to clinch the bilateral information-sharing accord, given Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not sincerely apologized for Japan's wartime wrongdoings while moving to boost Japan's military power.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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