WASHINGTON -- US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday welcomed Japan's efforts to strengthen trilateral cooperation with the US and South Korea, the Pentagon said, as relations between the two US allies remain tense ahead of the expiry of a bilateral military pact this weekend.
Esper's comments came during a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono on the sidelines of a defense ministers' gathering in Bangkok, Thailand.
"Secretary Esper welcomed Japan's efforts to strengthen cooperation and improve interoperability with Association of Southeast Asian Nations members, India, Australia, and trilaterally with the United States and the Republic of Korea," the Pentagon said in a readout.
"Both Ministers agreed on the need to develop a regional security network of likeminded partners," it added.
The US has urged South Korea and Japan to resolve their disputes over trade and wartime history to prevent them from jeopardizing trilateral security cooperation against North Korea's nuclear threats and China's military rise.
In particular, Washington has pressed Seoul to revoke its decision to withdraw from its military intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement.
South Korea announced in August that it will terminate the deal due to a deterioration of trust caused by Japan's adoption of export controls against the neighboring country.
The trade measure was seen as retaliation for a South Korean court ruling that ordered compensation for Koreans forced into labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
GSOMIA is set to expire on Saturday.
At the meeting, Esper also "reiterated the US commitment to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and complete abandonment of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles," according to the Pentagon. (Yonhap)