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Moon, Pentagon chief discuss trilateral security cooperation with Japan: official

President Moon Jae-in and the visiting US defense secretary talked about the significance of trilateral security cooperation involving Japan during their meeting here Friday, Moon's office said.

President Moon Jae-in (right) and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in (right) and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper (Yonhap)

Mark Esper was on his maiden visit to Seoul as the Pentagon chief. It came at a very sensitive time for three-way security partnerships among the regional powers.

Locked in a trade fight with Japan, South Korea is reviewing whether it's worthwhile to keep a bilateral accord on sharing some military information.

Signed in 2016, the pact is a key element in the tripartite regional defense posture against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats. If it's jettisoned, it would undermine their teamwork on security in Northeast Asia. Both Seoul and Tokyo are Washington's top allies in the region, where Beijing and Moscow are apparently trying to bolster their security ties.

Moon and Esper agreed on the need to "resolve" the issue of the General Security of Military Information Agreement in their half-hour Cheong Wa Dae meeting, but they did not go into details, a presidential official said.

They did not discuss North Korea's recent rocket launches or Seoul's possible role in the US-led campaign to secure free navigation through the Strait of Hormuz either, according to the Cheong Wa Dae official.

The official said the secretary paid a courtesy call on the president and that they had largely an introductory meeting with each other.

Moon, meanwhile, told Esper that denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang should move forward in tandem with the strengthening of the Seoul-Washington alliance.

Moon said he believes Esper is the "right person" to maintain the robust alliance, Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung said in a press briefing earlier.

The president was quoted as stressing the need to buttress nuclear talks between North Korea and the US as the alliance "solidifies."

Esper expressed hope for the resumption of Washington's dialogue with Pyongyang at an early date, Ko said.

He cited a June 30 meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the DMZ village of Panmunjom, saying it created "room" for the two sides to continue talks.

Moon and Esper agreed on efforts for the "smooth" Washington-to-Seoul transfer of the authority for wartime operational control of South Korean troops, Ko said.

Before meeting with Moon, Esper had a series of talks with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Chung Eui-yong, director of Cheong Wa Dae's national security office, in Seoul. (Yonhap)