SEOUL – The top diplomat of United States for the Asia Pacific on Wednesday met South Korean officials in Seoul amid a Japan-South Korea face-off that has threatened defense cooperation in the region, including a critical military intelligence-sharing pact on North Korea.
Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell met Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and other officials in the South Korean capital.
Stilwell told reporters that he had positive discussions with the South Koreans over a series of issues, including the General Security of Military Information Agreement.
The intelligence-sharing agreement expires on Nov. 23 and Seoul has threatened not to renew the pact signed in 2016 as the ties between the two countries have deteriorated.
The pact allows Japan and South Korea to share military information about North Korea and is a mechanism that Washington considers vital for regional security.
The renewal of the pact is one of the most important items on Stilwell’s agenda during his three-day visit to Seoul.
The US diplomat also met South Korea’s Deputy National Security Advisor Kim Hyun-chong for a 70-minute meeting.
He will visit Tokyo next where he would again discuss the pact.
Stilwell said a brief meeting over the weekend between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit was an “encouraging” sign.
The standoff between the two neighbors started last year when the South Korean Supreme Court asked Japanese companies to pay compensation to Korean citizens who were forced into labor during World War II.
In retaliation, Japan imposed restrictions on basic chemical materials purchased by South Korean companies to manufacture memory screens and chips.
Ties further deteriorated in August, when Japan dropped South Korea Seoul from its list of preferred trading partners.