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INTERVIEW: Japan defense minister eager to meet S. Korean counterpart

Tokyo, Sept. 20 (Jiji Press) — New Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono has expressed eagerness to hold talks with his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo, amid soured bilateral ties, pointing to the importance of Japan-South Korea cooperation to deal with the North Korean threat.

“I want to move forward with negotiations” over the bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, after Seoul’s decision last month to terminate the agreement, while “communicating well” with the South Korean side, Kono said in an interview with media organizations including Jiji Press on Wednesday, adding that he hopes to meet with Jeong at some point to discuss the matter.

“There are difficult problems between the governments, but cooperation between Japan and South Korea is important amid the (tough) North Korean situation,” Kono said.

Asked about challenges ahead for the Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces, Kono pointed to human resources development.

“We’ll need to deal with technological innovations including in the new fields of outer space as well as cyberspace and the electromagnetic environment,” Kono said.

“We’ll recruit good human resources and nurture them,” he said.

On the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma air base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, southernmost Japan, to the Henoko coastal area of Nago, another Okinawa city, Kono vowed to give adequate explanations to local residents to gain their understanding.

“Henoko will be very important to maintain our country’s deterrence power and to remove the dangers associated with Futenma,” Kono said.

“We hope to move forward with work while gaining approval from local people including the Okinawa prefectural government,” he said.

“I know (Okinawa) Governor Denny Tamaki very well, and I want to exchange opinions with him frankly,” Kono also said. “I’m hoping to visit Okinawa at the earliest timing possible.”

Asked about the ministry’s thinking regarding the possible dispatch of SDF personnel to the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East, Kono said nothing has been decided at the moment.

On the opposition of Akita Prefecture, northeastern Japan, to the deployment there of an Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system, Kono said the ministry will consider the deployment plan “from scratch” after conducting a survey of the candidate location again.

Asked whether the fact that U.S. President Donald Trump says he sees no problem with North Korea’s short-range missile launches presents a challenge for Japan-U.S. security cooperation, Kono said the Japan-U.S. alliance is going “very well.”

“There is no gap in the recognition between the United States and Japan that short-range missile launches are violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions. There is no worry about this,” he said.

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