SEOUL, July 11 (Yonhap) -- Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said Wednesday he was not briefed in detail about the Cabinet's decision to secretively pass a landmark military pact with Japan late last month, apologizing to the parliament again over the mishandling of the sensitive agreement.
Kim made the remark during a meeting of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, which was held to look into who was responsible for the botched attempt to sign the military intelligence-sharing deal and whether it is necessary to go ahead with the signing of such a pact with Tokyo.
The deal was put on hold late last month as ruling and opposition parties urged the government to report the matter to the parliament first before making the next step.
When asked whether he had been aware of the Cabinet's plan to approve it in a closed-door meeting on June 26, Kim said he didn't know because he was accompanying President Lee Myung-bak on a trip to South American nations at the time.
"(The plan) was not reported to the president (Lee) as far as I know," Kim said.
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan apologizes for the government's mishandling of a sensitive military deal with Japan during a parliamentary meeting held on July 11, 2012. (Yonhap)
Kim also denied speculation that Washington had pressured Seoul to sign the pact through diplomatic channels, saying there was no request from the U.S. government in regard to the issue.
Reaction to the agreement from the South Korean public has been predominantly negative due in large part to resentment associated with Japan's former colonial rule. If signed, it will be South Korea's first military pact with Japan, which ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910 to 1945.
During the meeting, ruling and opposition lawmakers strongly rebuked the government.
"Although I understand the necessity of the deal, it was apparently handled in the wrong way, undermining our diplomacy," said Rep. Kim Young-woo of the ruling Saenuri Party. "We have to seek measures to prevent recurrences of such an incident."
Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, also a Saenuri member, said the government should seek public understanding of the sensitive issue first, saying the ministry's attempt to hurriedly pass the deal was a "misjudgment."
"This is the worst diplomatic mistake," said Rep. Jung Chung-rai of the main opposition Democratic United Party. "It is a de-facto military agreement between South Korea and Japan. Is it right to sign a military pact while the Japanese government doesn't apologize and regret past history?"
Despite procedural flaws, Kim stressed the agreement remains necessary for national defense and said he will carefully push for the deal.
"(The ministry) didn't intend to have so-called closed-door negotiations or sign a secretive pact," Kim said, saying that some media and activists groups have reported that negotiations for the pact were underway from early last year.
"In light of this incident, we will collect opinions of the lawmakers of the foreign affairs committee and review related clauses to handle this matter carefully," he said.