Japan, South Korea and the United States are arranging to hold working-level defense talks in Washington in mid-April to pave the way for enabling real-time information sharing about North Korea's ballistic missile launches, a government source said Wednesday.

Last year, the leaders of the three countries agreed to take steps to swiftly share information about Pyongyang's missile firings, but Tokyo, Seoul and Washington have yet to begin a full-fledged discussion, as bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea remained unstable.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (front, R), U.S. President Joe Biden (C) and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (far L) hold talks in Phnom Penh on Nov. 13, 2022. (Kyodo)

On Monday, however, South Korea announced its solution to a wartime labor compensation dispute with Japan, prompting the three nations to accelerate their defense cooperation to tackle growing security threats from the North, the source said.

The senior defense officials of Japan, South Korea and the United States would hold their trilateral meeting for the first time since May 2020.

Currently, there is no mechanism for Japan and South Korea to immediately exchange information about the North's missile launches, while Washington has established such a system with Tokyo and Seoul, respectively.

Japan and South Korea have signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, which allows the two U.S. allies to directly share military intelligence, especially related to the North's ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

But Tokyo and Seoul cannot quickly exchange military information under the pact, as the deal entails the two countries deciding whether to provide intelligence to each other after analyzing the situation, respectively, following Pyongyang's missile firings.

While the agreement was on the brink of termination under the administration of former South Korean President Moon Jae In in 2019, the government of incumbent Yoon Suk Yeol, who has been trying to improve relations with Japan since taking office last year, has been eager to "normalize" the pact, local media reported.

Geographically, it is difficult for Tokyo to immediately obtain information on where a North Korean missile is launched from, and South Korea is poor at evaluating the situation where the projectile falls.

If Tokyo, Seoul and Washington can exchange military information in real time, the three nations would be able to improve the technology to intercept North Korean missiles, foreign affairs experts said.

In 2022, North Korea launched missiles on a record 37 occasions in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Fears are also mounting that Pyongyang may carry out its seventh nuclear test, the first since September 2017, in the not-so-distant future.

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