(ATTN: RECASTS lead; EDITS to conform)
By Lee Haye-ah
WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) -- The United States is encouraged that South Korea and Japan are seeking ways to improve their relationship, a State Department official overseeing the region said Wednesday, after the two U.S. allies salvaged their military intelligence-sharing pact.
Marc Knapper, deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, was referring to South Korea's decision to conditionally renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan despite ongoing bilateral disputes over trade and wartime history.
"This decision, we believe, sends a very positive message that like-minded allies like ourselves can work through bilateral disputes and cooperate to address shared challenges," Knapper said in remarks at a conference discussing the South Korea-U.S. military alliance.
"We're also encouraged by the fact that both South Korea and Japan continue to discuss ways to further improve their relationship. And the United States will continue to pursue ways to support these efforts and strengthen relations between and among our three countries," he said.
The U.S. strongly opposed South Korea's decision in August to terminate GSOMIA, citing the potential negative impact on trilateral security cooperation against North Korea's nuclear threats and China's military rise.
"As an ally and friend to both countries, both Japan and the (Republic of Korea), we believe now, more than ever, is the time to ensure that there are strong and close relationships between and among our three countries," Knapper said, citing challenges from North Korea, China and Russia.
"When our relations suffer, no one benefits -- no one in Tokyo, no one in Seoul, no one in Washington," he added.
Paying tribute to the evolution of the South Korea-U.S. alliance over 70 years, Knapper expressed confidence that the relationship will continue to grow through the planned transfer of wartime operational control of the countries' combined forces from Washington to Seoul.
The allies have been eyeing a conditions-based transition in or around 2022.
"This is an alliance that is ironclad. This is an alliance that is the linchpin of peace and stability, not just on the Korean Peninsula, but throughout the Indo-Pacific," Knapper said. "And we believe that through our efforts -- our joint, our shared efforts to realize OPCON transition -- that we'll make our alliance stronger, more capable and better able to meet the challenges of the 21st century."