(ATTN: RECASTS title, lead as talks begin; UPDATES paras 2-7 with latest info; ADDS photo)
By Oh Seok-min
BANGKOK, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- The defense chiefs of South Korea and Japan held tense one-on-one talks in Thailand on Sunday, just days before the planned expiry of their intelligence-sharing pact, but no breakthrough was made.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said after the meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, that the two sides stuck to their existing positions on the issue of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) set to expire Saturday.
"(The two sides) exchanged their original stances," Jeong told reporters after having 40-minute talks with Kono in the Thai capital of Bangkok on the sidelines of the 6th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus).
"As I repeat, our government was to renew the pact until June. Following Japan's export curbs (on South Korea) saying their security trust was hurt, however, we were forced to have decided to terminate GSOMIA," Jeong said.
Stressing that there seems to exist more room to resolve the issue in the diplomatic realm than in terms of defense, Jeong stated that he called on Kono to make efforts to resolve the issue diplomatically.
Sharing the need for the bilateral security cooperation, as well as trilateral coordination involving the United States, the two ministers agreed to work closer to strengthen their defense ties, Jeong added.
Noting what he said was the "very difficult" security situation in Northeast Asia following North Korea's missiles tests, among others, Kono told reporters after the meeting that he asked for South Korea's "wide response regarding GSOMIA."
When entering the meeting venue, a grim-faced Kono refused to answer reporters' questions about any new suggestions from the Japanese side and if he was optimistic about the fate of the agreement.
The termination decision was followed by Japan's export curbs on Seoul, citing security concerns, which is seen as political retaliation for last year's Korean Supreme Court rulings against Japanese firms over wartime forced labor.
Japan wants to maintain the pact, and the United States has also called for its renewal. But South Korea has maintained the stance that any reconsideration would only be possible if Japan first changes its course.
As the deadline draws near, Sunday's meetings could practically be the last chance for South Korea and Japan to seek a breakthrough regarding the issue.
Japan, however, has not showed signs of retracting its export restrictions against the South. According to Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun on Sunday, Japan has notified the U.S. of its decision not to accede to South Korea's demand.
Under the circumstances, what role the U.S. can play also draws attention.
Later in the day, Jeong and Kono are scheduled to join U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for trilateral talks, according to the ministry.
During a joint press conference with Jeong after their bilateral talks in Seoul on Friday, Esper called on his two Asian allies to "sit down and work through differences," as the termination of the key security tool would only benefit North Korea and China.
Jeong last met his Japanese counterpart in Singapore in June, and the trilateral meeting among the top defense officials from the three countries was also held in June.
On Sunday, the South Korean defense minister is also scheduled to hold bilateral talks with his counterparts from China, New Zealand, Indonesia and Thailand to explore ways to deepen their defense ties, the ministry said.
The two-day multilateral event, set to run until Monday, brings together high-level defense officials from ASEAN countries and eight member states -- South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and India, according to the ministry.
During a plenary session Monday, Jeong will deliver a speech on the government's peace process involving North Korea and ask for international support for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the push to turn the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into a peace zone, the ministry said.
In his address during the U.N. General Assembly session in New York in September, President Moon Jae-in proposed turning the DMZ that separates the two Koreas into a global peace zone, saying the plan will provide an institutional and realistic guarantee of North Korea's security.
ADMM-Plus was launched in 2010 to benefit participating countries to build capacity to better address shared security challenges and promote mutual trust and confidence, according to its organizer. It had been held every two or three years. Then from last year, it became an annual event.
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