The United States is close to an agreement to share intelligence on North Korea with South Korea and Japan, according to reports on Friday.

“Ever since defense ministers of Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed on the importance of information sharing in May, discussion has taken place at various levels,” said a Japanese Defense Ministry official Friday, according to Reuters. The official added that those talks are “now in the final stages.”

The United States already has a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with each of the countries, but the new pact would facilitate sharing of intelligence between South Korea and Japan through the U.S. as an intermediary.

The South Korean defense ministry said in a statement Friday that “[t]he three countries have felt the growing need and importance of sharing intelligence on North Korea’s increasing nuclear and missile threats.” Seoul is particularly concerned that the North’s nuclear program poses an existential threat.

North Korea has a long history of rhetorical bombast toward the United States and South Korea, which it considers its sworn enemies. But many in South Korea are wary of Japan as well, given a history that includes territorial disputes and Japan’s forty-year rule of Korea that ended in 1945. Those long-simmering tensions have prevented a bilateral agreement between the two countries, according to the Financial Times.

The deal comes after a high-profile hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment that saw emails, scripts, and even full films released online. American officials blamed Pyongyang – the group responsible for the hacks threatened violence for Sony’s film The Interview, about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – but the isolated country has denied the charges.

“The army and people of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea] are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space,” Pyongyang said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA. That long diatribe – characteristic of North Korea propaganda – included a reference to the U.S. as “the ill-famed cesspool of injustice.”

According to Chinese news agency Xinhua, the North Korea intelligence-sharing pact is slated to be signed on December 29 with minimal fanfare in the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.

[photo credit: zennie62]