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2008/05/31 22:43 KST
Seoul, Tokyo agree to boost three-way military ties with U.S.

   SINGAPORE, May 31 (Yonhap) -- The defense chiefs of South Korea and Japan agreed Saturday to work together to revive a suspended three-way military dialogue with the United States as soon as possible, South Korean officials said.

   South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee and his Japanese counterpart, Shigeru Ishida also agreed to hold joint search and rescue exercises with the U.S. annually following the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the largest international maritime exercise hosted by the U.S. Navy and Britain's Royal Navy, they said.

   Lee and Ishida were in Singapore for an annual meeting of the Asia Security Summit, a regional defense forum also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.

   South Korea and Japan had frequently held tripartite defense talks with the United States until 2002 when the then liberal South Korean government of President Roh Moo-hyun expressed concern that the military dialogue could unnecessarily provoke North Korea.

   "The countries need to foster increased cooperation and exchanges between their military sectors while working to eliminate historical and political obstacles between the two," Lee was quoted as telling the Japanese military chief.

   Ishiba agreed on the need to increase military cooperation between the two nations, according to the officials. Ishiba explained Tokyo's plan to legislate a bill that would allow Japan to dispatch its self-defense forces for U.N. peacekeeping operations without a prior approval of its Diet.

   The officials noted that the three-way military dialogue could be resumed in the near future as Washington has long worked to bring the two of its closest Asian allies together.

   Lee also met his Australian counterpart Joel Fitzgibbon and stressed the need for a military information protection accord between the two countries, the officials said.

   The proposed agreement, if sealed, could allow Australia to manufacture four spy airplanes for Seoul by 2012, a possible move to help Seoul save up to US$100 million, they said.

   The South Korean defense minister will wrap up his three-day visit here Sunday after bilateral talks with the defense ministers of Britain and Mongolia. The annual regional defense forum was set to end on Sunday.