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Rival parties resolve final differences on spy agency reform


SEOUL, Dec. 31 (Yonhap) -- The ruling and opposition parties have resolved all differences over how to reform the state intelligence agency, sources said Tuesday, clearing the final hurdle for the passage of the national budget for next year on the last day of the current parliamentary session.

Ranking members of the special parliamentary committee on reforming the National Intelligence Service (NIS) were to meet Tuesday morning for a final review of the reform package before convening a full meeting of the committee to approve the deal, the sources said.

NIS reform has been the main sticking point holding up the passage of the national budget. Stalled negotiations have sparked concern that the government could be forced to formulate a tentative, minimum-spending budget unless the National Assembly passes the full budget by year's end.

During the negotiations, the ruling Saenuri and main opposition Democratic parties have argued mainly over two issues, one of them about whether to make the parliamentary intelligence committee an independent standing panel to increase the oversight of the spy agency.

Currently, the committee convenes only when necessary, with its members doubling as members of other standing committees. In the latest deal, the rival parties agreed to seek its transformation into the standing panel.

The other issue was about how to ban NIS agents, known as IOs, or intelligence officers, from making routine visits to government agencies, a practice that critics have denounced as unwarranted spying. The rival parties agreed to specify the ban in the internal regulations of the NIS, the sources said.

Once the reform package is passed, it will be sent to the plenary session.

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