South Korea's ambassador to the United States voiced hope Monday that Seoul's decision to tentatively extend a military information-sharing pact with Japan will bolster its ties with Washington.
Ambassador Lee Soo-hyuck was referring to Seoul's decision last week to postpone the termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement following Tokyo's willingness to hold working-level talks on each country's export control measures.
Washington had pressed both of its allies to salvage the pact in the interest of trilateral cooperation against North Korea's nuclear threats and China's military rise. On Friday, the State Department welcomed Seoul's move.
"This incident resulted in the strengthening of trust and communication between South Korea and the U.S., so I hope (the two sides) will apply this foundation to defense cost-sharing negotiations, coordination on the North Korean nuclear issue and strengthening regional cooperation," Lee said during a briefing with reporters.
The controversy over GSOMIA raised concerns about an erosion of the Seoul-Washington alliance at a time when the two countries have publicly displayed a rift over how to split the costs for the stationing of 28,500 American troops in South Korea.
The ambassador, who took office late last month, dismissed perceptions that the U.S. had heaped more pressure on Seoul than it had on Tokyo.
"In fact, my understanding is that senior U.S. government officials recently visited Japan and South Korea to actively encourage both sides to reach an agreement," he said, citing trips and meetings involving Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
"I can't disclose the details of diplomatic consultations, but the Japanese side started to show a slight change in its previous adamant position, and I think Friday's agreement between South Korea and Japan shows that the U.S. played a constructive role," he added.
The ambassador said he stressed five key points in his meetings over the past month with U.S. government officials and members of Congress, including principles that South Korea believes GSOMIA is necessary and the U.S. should engage with both South Korea and Japan in a balanced manner. (Yonhap)