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Japanese Diplomat Says US Doesn't Trust South Korea On North Korea Intelligence

Korea Times | May 27, 2005

Seoul has voiced strong regret over claims by a top Japanese diplomat that the United States is unwilling to entrust South Korea with classified intelligence on North Korea.

``Intelligence cooperation between Seoul and Washington is close,’’ said Lee Kyu-hyung, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, responding to the remarks made by Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi to South Korean lawmakers.

``Japan knows that very well and is not in a position to comment (on bilateral relations between South Korea and the U.S.),’’ Lee said.

According to members of the National Assembly’s Defense Committee, the Japanese diplomat told them during a meeting on May 11 that Tokyo receives a lot of intelligence from Washington but cannot pass it on to Seoul because the U.S. does not fully trust it.

Yachi also expressed concern that South Korea is siding with China and North Korea in the dispute over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs, they said.

South Korea made an official protest to the Japanese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday after Yachi’s comments were made public, Lee said.

Another Seoul official dismissed Yachi’s remarks as irrelevant, saying the Japanese vice minister seemed to have a grudge against South Korea due to lingering history disputes.

However, the episode has triggered a renewed debate over the wisdom of President Roh Moo-hyun independent North Korea policy line, which conservatives argue is undermining its traditional relationship with the United States.

Opposition Grand National Party lawmaker Park Jin said a high-ranking U.S. defense official also complained to him about Seoul’s ``appeasement policy’’ toward the North during a recent visit to Washington.

The American official said pragmatists in the Chinese government believe it will be difficult to convince North Korea to return to the six-party nuclear talks too as long as South Korea refuses to get tough on Pyongyang, according to Park.

Kim Tae-hyo, professor at Sungkyunkwan University, said South Korea should heed these kind of comments as a warning sign that its reconciliatory overtures toward the reclusive North risk alienating the country from the United States and Japan.

``Problems in South Korea’s relations with the U.S. and Japan have started with the issue of North Korea,’’ he said. ``In the long-term, the gap in approach toward North Korea can reinforce problems in the alliance.’’

Kim also noted it is not the first time for concerns to be raised over a lack of intelligence sharing between Seoul and Washington.

Last month, U.S. intelligence officials said they had detected signs of preparations for a nuclear test in North Korea. But South Korea’s spy chief contradicted the claims, saying he had seen nothing new or alarming happening north of the Demilitarized Zone.

Conservatives said the U.S. also appeared to be withholding information from South Korea on several occasions last year, most notably following a massive explosion in the North Korean town of Ryongchon in April.

``We do not have any clear evidence for these cases,’’ Kim said. ``But they should be taken as a hint to the government to take care of its alliance with the U.S"

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