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S. Korea, Japan defense chiefs to hold talks in Seoul next week
SEOUL, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) -- Defense ministers of South Korea and Japan will hold talks in Seoul next week to strengthen their military ties, including a proposed agreement to protect bilaterally shared military secrets, officials here said Tuesday.

   Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa, who will visit Seoul next Monday, are also expected to discuss North Korea's military provocations and bilateral cooperation on military supplies and services, officials at the South's defense ministry said.

   South Korea and Japan held talks for the so-called "General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA)" in the past, but little progress had been made.

   However, Seoul and Tokyo "have recently felt the need to sign the agreement" following a series of North Korean provocations, including the deadly shelling of a South Korean border island in November, an official at the South's defense ministry said.

   If the GSOMIA is signed, it will allow South Korea and Japan to systematically exchange intelligence on North Korea's nuclear programs and weapons of mass destruction, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

   "The pact, if signed, will open a new chapter in the development of military relations between South Korea and Japan," he said.

   Kim and Kitazawa are also expected to explore concluding another pact, called the "Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement," which would stipulate obligations on sharing military supplies and services such as food, fuel and transportation between the two nations.

   Despite their close economic ties, South Korea and Japan have had limited military contact and exchanges, given a legacy of Tokyo's brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945.

   Since the North's Nov. 23 artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, which left two marines and two civilians dead, the U.S. has been urging the two neighbors to build a stronger military relationship.

   On his visit to Seoul after the Yeonpyeong attack, U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen proposed joint military drills among South Korea, Japan and the U.S. to increase deterrence against North Korea.

   However, South Korean officials expressed reservations over the prospect of trilateral drills, because such a move would run counter to Japan's pacifist constitution that strictly prohibits the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.