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S. Korean, U.S., Japanese defense chiefs to meet in Singapore next week

Defense ministers of South Korea, the United States and Japan plan to meet in Singapore next week for possible discussions on cooperation in dealing with North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, officials said Monday.

South Korea's Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin is set to meet with his U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel and Japanese defense chief Itsunori Onodera on May 31 in Singapore on the sidelines of the Asia Security Summit, according to the defense ministry here.

The 13th security summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, is set to take place in Singapore on that day for a three-day run.

"The agenda for the trilateral defense talks has been under discussion," defense ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told a regular briefing.

With details of the agenda likely to be set early next week, comprehensive security issues of mutual interest are expected to be on the table, with an emphasis on the latest developments in North Korea including the communist country's preparations for much-threatened, fresh round of nuclear test.

Drawing keen attention is whether any progress will be made over the three sides' sharing military intelligence. The Seoul ministry has said it would seek to sign a memorandum of understanding for the trilateral cooperation.

"It is not yet set whether the issue will discussed during the upcoming talks," a military officer said, while noting "a growing necessity for us to establish a system that exploits intelligence collected by Japan on the North's nuclear weapons program and missiles."

The cooperative mechanism is a sensitive issue for Seoul, given its soured relations with Tokyo over history and territorial issues. South Korea was under Japan's harsh colonial rule in 1910-45.  

South Korea shelved the bilateral military intelligence pact with Japan in 2012 over mounting public uproar at home.

The military intelligence pact was reached between Seoul and Washington and between Tokyo and Washington, but not between Seoul and Tokyo.

The three allies have held the defense meetings since 2009 on an annual basis on the sidelines of the summit as part of efforts to boost policy coordination to rein in North Korea.

While attending the meeting, Seoul's defense chief Kim is also planning to have bilateral talks with his counterparts, including those from the U.S., Britain and New Zealand, the ministry said.(Yonhap)