National / Politics

State Department spokeswoman says Seoul's scrapping of intel pact with Japan threatens U.S. troops

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

In a little-noticed tweet Sunday, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman delivered an unusually blunt criticism of South Korea’s decision to pull out of an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, saying that the move endangers American troops.

“We are deeply disappointed and concerned that the ROK’s government terminated the General Security of Military Information Agreement #GSOMIA,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus wrote. “This will make defending #Korea more complicated and increase risk to U.S. forces.”

The Trump administration has already voiced its disappointment over South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s Thursday announcement that Seoul would stop participating in the 2016 agreement with Japan, though it had not noted the danger doing so put U.S. troops in.

The pact allowed all three countries to directly share intelligence about security issues concerning countries such as North Korea and China.

On Thursday, the U.S. expressed “strong concern” and “disappointment” with Seoul’s decision as both the State Department and Pentagon issued rare public rebukes of South Korea.

“We’re disappointed to see the decision that the South Koreans made about that information-sharing agreement,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Those statements did not mention U.S. forces. The United States stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea and 50,000 in Japan. Experts have said that North Korea’s increasingly powerful missile arsenal leaves both countries at risk in the event of an attack, despite moves to bolster defenses.

South Korea will be able to continue sharing such information with Japan via the more roundabout and less timely Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement, under which the United States serves as the intermediary.

Since last year, Japan-South Korea relations have been in free fall over history and trade issues. Seoul raised the prospect of discontinuing GSOMIA after Japan last month imposed export control measures, citing national security concerns.

Meanwhile, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Monday that it would be desirable for the government to reconsider scrapping the pact if Tokyo withdraws its export curbs, the Yonhap news agency reported.

“If Japan withdraws its unjust (trade) measures, it would be desirable for the Korean government to reconsider GSOMIA,” the prime minister was quoted as telling a parliamentary session.

Lee said the government harbored doubts about whether to share military secrets with Japan as if “nothing happens.”

Late Sunday, local media reported that the South’s presidential Blue House had considered a “conditional” extension of the deal in which Seoul would have extended the agreement but suspended military information-sharing for the time being, citing a top official with the office. However, it ended up scrapping the deal in consideration of the possibility that Japan may end the deal after the conditional extension.

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