Dec 26, 4:16 AM EST

SKorea, US, Japan to share intel on North Korea

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea, the U.S. and Japan will sign their first joint intelligence-sharing pact next week to better cope with North Korea's increasing nuclear and missile threats, officials said Friday.

The U.S. has separate, bilateral intelligence-sharing agreements with South Korea and Japan, both American allies which are hosts to tens of thousands of U.S. troops.

But Seoul and Tokyo don't have such bilateral pacts, partly a result of long-running history disputes stemming from Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. In 2012, the two almost forged an intelligence-sharing pact, but its signing was scrapped at the last minute following a backlash in South Korea.

Under the latest initiative, South Korea and Japan would share intelligence only on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs via the U.S., according to a statement from Seoul's Defense Ministry.

The pact would enable the three countries to swiftly respond to any North Korean provocation at a time when its threats are growing following a third nuclear test in February 2013, the statement said. The use of Japanese intelligence assets would boost surveillance on North Korea, it said.

South Korean officials say the North is believed to have made progress in manufacturing nuclear warheads that are small and light enough to be placed on a missile capable of reaching the U.S. North Korea conducted its first bomb test in 2006, followed by another in 2009.

The formal signing of the pact by the South Korean vice defense minister and his U.S. and Japanese counterparts will take place Monday, according to South Korean defense officials.

The Korean Peninsula was divided into a U.S.-backed South Korea and a Soviet-supported, socialist North Korea at the end of the Japanese occupation. The two Koreas fought a devastating three-year war in the early 1950, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

In October, troops of the rival Koreas exchanged gunfire along their heavily fortified border twice, though no causalities were reported.

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