The nominee to become the top commander of American troops in South Korea said Tuesday he supports the transition of wartime operational control (OPCON) as scheduled in 2015, despite Seoul's call for some flexibility on the timeline.
The stance by Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti reflects a gap between the allies on the appropriate timing for the OPCON transfer in the face of growing threats from nuclear-armed North Korea.
"I do agree with the timetable. It is a bilateral agreement, Strategic Alliance 2015, to turn over operational control by December of 2015," he said in a Senate confirmation hearing.
In May, President Barack Obama nominated Scaparrotti, formerly deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, to head U.S. Forces Korea. If confirmed, he will get promoted to the rank of four-star general and succeed Gen. James Thurman.
"I think it's a good plan ... And I think we should move forward with it," Scaparrotti said, adding it is expected to pave the way for enhanced combat readiness.
But he emphasized that South Korea's military will have to meet "a detailed set of certification requirements" by the agreed-upon date.
"Although these requirements are based on meeting milestones leading to December 2015, it is important to note that the transition is conditions-driven," he said.
The Pentagon said earlier the requirements include South Korea's acquisition of weapon systems, command and control systems, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance gear and an adequate supply of munitions.
Whether South Korea should take over the OPCON of its troops in the event of war is still politically and ideologically controversial in the country.
Some emphasize the rights and responsibility as a sovereign nation, while others are concerned that an early OPCON transition may trigger miscalculation by North Korea.
South Korea handed over its operational control to the U.S.-led U.N. troops during the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul regained peacetime OPCON in 1994.
South Korea originally agreed to take back its wartime OPCON as of April 17, 2012. Shortly after North Korea's deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in 2010, however, Seoul asked for a delay in the schedule. Washington accepted it.
Earlier this month, Yonhap News Agency learned that South Korea's Defense Ministry has proposed more discussions with the Pentagon on the feasibility of the OPCON transfer in 2015.
South Korean military officials apparently hope for a further postponement in the schedule as they believe it would be difficult to be fully ready for the transition by the target date.
A diplomatic source said it is a matter to be resolved by the two governments again on the basis of a political determination, not a military one. (Yonhap News)