Photo/IllutrationSouth Korean President Moon Jae-in listens to a report about the General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan on Aug. 22 before the decision was made to end the agreement. (South Korea Presidential Blue House via AP)

SEOUL--The ignoring of an olive branch in a speech by South Korean President Moon Jae-in is the final straw that led to the decision on Aug. 22 to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, according to sources.

The important message was contained in the speech given by Moon on National Liberation Day on Aug. 15, the national holiday celebrated in South Korea to mark liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

Moon not only toned down his anti-Japanese rhetoric but added, "if Japan chooses the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands."

A source in the South Korean presidential office said, "We sent a very significant signal but there was no response from Japan either by an important political figure or through diplomatic channels."

The source said that until the end of July, the general consensus within the Moon administration was leaning toward an automatic one-year renewal of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which allows for the sharing of military intelligence.

However, on Aug. 2, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to the removal of South Korea from a list of nations receiving preferential treatment on trade.

The subsequent lack of response to Moon's signal was the decisive factor that led to ending the GSOMIA with Japan, the source said.

Before the decision was made, South Korea's National Security Council discussed the matter for about two hours. Another hour was spent during the report made to Moon about the NSC recommendation.

South Korean officials were most concerned about the response from the United States once they proceeded with the decision to scrap the GSOMIA.

A source in the South Korean military said, "Both Japan and the United States would criticize the decision to end the agreement. Administration officials likely felt that the negative factors would far outweigh the positive elements that would be produced by heightening anti-Japanese sentiment."

A source with the South Korean presidential office said the progress of discussions within the administration was shared with the United States almost simultaneously, and the decision was apparently reached that the South Korea-U.S. alliance would not be hurt even if the GSOMIA with Japan ended.

South Korea's Defense Ministry on Aug. 22 issued a statement that said a solid defense structure based on a stable and complete South Korea-U.S. alliance would be maintained even if the GSOMIA with Japan ended.

South Korean public opinion was also an important factor behind the Aug. 22 decision.

After Japan strengthened its export control measures regarding materials used mainly to manufacture semiconductors, the Democratic Party of Korea, which supports Moon, and the media began calling for the use of the GSOMIA as a diplomatic card to play against Japan.

Moon himself had always been skeptical about the GSOMIA.

During the 2017 presidential election, he included a campaign pledge that called for reviewing the effectiveness of the GSOMIA before deciding to extend or end it.

Progressive elements that also support Moon had criticized the GSOMIA because it meant important defense intelligence would be shared with Japan, which had once invaded South Korea.

It was clear that the Moon administration faced a dilemma between two risks. Ending the GSOMIA would hurt ties with both Japan and the United States. But extending it would have likely led to a domestic backlash as it would have been perceived as a compromise with Japan.

Sources said the Moon administration commissioned public opinion surveys on an almost daily basis to ascertain what the public response would be to ending the agreement as well as its evaluation of the effect the move would have on ties with Japan and the United States.

A ruling party source revealed that one option that was considered to contain public criticism was leaking to the media the intention of the South Korean government to not actually exchange any military information with Japan even after it decided to extend the GSOMIA.