SKorea, US and Japan to sign first-ever trilateral intelligence pact on North Korea threats

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea, the U.S. and Japan will sign their first-ever trilateral intelligence-sharing pact next week to better cope with North Korea's increasing nuclear and missile threats, Seoul officials said Friday.

The U.S. has separate, bilateral intelligence-sharing agreements with South Korea and Japan, both American allies which are hosts to tens of thousands of American troops.

But Seoul and Tokyo don't have such bilateral pacts amid long-running history disputes stemming from Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. In 2012, the two almost forged their first-ever intelligence-sharing pact but its signing was scrapped at the last minute due to backlash in South Korea.

Under the trilateral pact, South Korea and Japan would share intelligence, only on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, via the U.S., according to a statement from Seoul's Defense Ministry.

The pact would enable the three countries to swiftly respond to any North Korean provocation at a time when its threats are growing following its third nuclear test in February 2013, the statement said. The use of Japanese intelligence assets would boost surveillance on North Korea, it said.

South Korean officials say the North is believed to have made progress in its goal of manufacturing nuclear warheads small and light enough to be placed on a missile capable of reaching the U.S., given that eight years have passed since its first bomb test in 2006. North Korea conducted its second test in 2009.

The formal signing of the pact by the South Korean vice defense minister and his U.S. and Japanese counterparts will take place Monday, according to South Korean defense officials.

The Korean Peninsula was divided into a U.S.-backed, capitalistic South Korea and a Soviet-supported, socialist North Korea at the end of the Japanese occupation. The two Koreas fought a devastating three-year war in the early 1950, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

In October, troops of the rival Koreas exchanged gunfire along their heavily fortified border twice though no causalities were reported.

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