South Korea and the U.S. opened high-level defense talks Tuesday over an array of bilateral security issues, including the delay in the transfer of wartime operational control.
Represented by Deputy Defense Minister Yoo Jeh-seung and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey, the two sides discussed the issue at the two-day Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue at the Pentagon.
Seoul and Washington reportedly agreed on the need to postpone the OPCON handover and are discussing the right conditions for the transfer. Observers say they might make their decision on the delay in October, when the allies’ defense chiefs meet for their annual Security Consultative Meeting in the U.S.
A senior Seoul official who declined to be named indicated recently that the allies were inclined toward the postponement.
“(Security) situations have changed very significantly, compared with the time when the allies agreed to transfer the OPCON,” he told reporters. “The allies’ judgment will be made in a direction that would strengthen our joint defense capabilities and help ensure peninsular security.”
Last October, the two sides agreed to continue their consultations on the delay of the transfer based on their fresh evaluation of “conditions.”
Seoul requested last year that the allies reconsider the timing of the transfer in light of increased nuclear threats from North Korea, which conducted a third nuclear test in February of the year following its successful launch of a long-range rocket in December 2012.
Observers predict that President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama will discuss the OPCON transfer when the latter arrives here next Friday for a two-day visit as part of his Asia tour.
Initially scheduled for April 2012, the transfer was postponed to the end of 2015 in June 2010 amid North Korean provocations, including the torpedoing of the South Korean corvette Cheonan that killed 46 sailors.
On top of the OPCON transfer, the two sides also discussed how to strengthen deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction, and how to counter the newly emerging threat from the North’s military drones, at the KIDD talks.
Launched in 2011, KIDD is a comprehensive defense meeting between the allies that integrates the three existing consultative meetings ― the Security Policy Initiative, Extended Deterrence Policy Committee and Strategic Alliance 2015 Working Group.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)