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(Yonhap Interview) Amb. Harris says Seoul elevated history issue into security realm with GSOMIA decision

All Headlines 18:00 November 19, 2019

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 19 (Yonhap) -- The top U.S. envoy in South Korea said Tuesday that Seoul has elevated its long-simmering historical conflict with Tokyo into the security realm, redoubling calls for it to reverse the decision to end its military information-sharing accord with Japan.

Amb. Harry Harris made the remarks, warning that the termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) would affect America's ability to defend South Korea, which is "our treaty obligation to your country."

The military pact, which the U.S. sees as a symbolic yet crucial tool to promote trilateral security cooperation with its two Asian allies, is set to expire on Saturday unless Seoul reverses its decision to terminate it.

"Korea elevated it into the security realm and that security realm affects us. So, now it affects the U.S. and our ability to defend Korea, and puts our troops at risk ... so that is why we reacted quickly and strongly in expressing disappointment at Seoul's decision," he said in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency at his official residence in Seoul on Nov. 19, 2019. (Yonhap)

In August, Seoul announced the decision in response to Tokyo's export restrictions, which it sees as political retaliation for last year's Korean Supreme Court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul insists that it can reconsider its decision on GSOMIA only if Tokyo cancels the export control measures. Japan imposed the restrictions citing security concerns and an erosion of trust with South Korea.

Commenting on Seoul's rationale for the decision to end GSOMIA, Harris expressed his disagreement with it.

"Just because I understand cognitively the rationale behind Korea's decision, that does not mean I agree with it. I don't agree with it," he said.

Though there are no signs of progress in the efforts by Seoul and Tokyo to settle their dispute, Harris said that he believes there is a chance that South Korea could reverse its decision on the military pact.

"I do believe there is a chance … There is always a chance and we have a few days left and we will have to see where it goes," he said.

Touching on the hitherto unfruitful defense cost-sharing negotiations between Seoul and Washington, Harris urged Seoul to put forward a "meaningful counter-offer" to make progress, stressing that "the ball is in Korea's court."

He added that the two sides could conclude their negotiations over the sharing of the cost for stationing the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea before the end of the year.

"Of course it is possible and it is not a theoretical possibility. It is a very real possibility. But Korea has to come back to the negotiating table in good faith," he said.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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