South Korea and the United States agreed Saturday to fix the timing of and conditions for the transfer of wartime control of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul by October, officials here said Saturday.
During the bilateral talks in Singapore earlier in the day, Seoul's defense minister Kim Kwan-jin and his U.S. counterpart, Chuck Hagel, agreed upon the work plan that specifies the timetable to decide when and under what conditions the South will regain the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its troops from Washington.
"By October when the allies are scheduled to hold their annual Security Consultative Meeting in Washington, the two sides will have set the appropriate timing and conditions for the OPCON transfer," a defense ministry official said, requesting anonymity.
South Korea handed over control of its forces to the U.S.
during the 1950-53 Korean War to defend against invading troops from North Korea. Peacetime control of its forces was returned in 1994, and South Korea is scheduled to get back the wartime control in December 2015.
But last year, Seoul asked for a delay after the communist country conducted its third nuclear test, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in April to reconsider the timing of the OPCON transfer amid the Pyongyang's threat to carry out yet another nuclear test.
This is the first time that Seoul and Washington agreed upon a detailed schedule for the transfer, the official said, adding the two agreed to set up a permanent consultative body to be led by assistant secretary-level officials for in-depth discussions.
The allies are also planning to expand their joint task force in charge of the coordination efforts to include more entities related to the matter such as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the official added.
Experts and officials say chances are high for the two sides to push back the timing for about five to seven years, setting the year of transfer in early 2020.
South and North Korea are still technically at war after the
1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce without a peace treaty. About
28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help defend the Asian ally from threats from the communist nation.
During the Saturday talks, Kim and Hagel also agreed to continue to strengthen their deterrence against North Korea over its nuclear and conventional weapons threats, and to cooperate further in a way to boost their joint defense capabilities, according to the ministry.
The two defense chiefs sat down for talks on the sidelines of the 13th Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, which began on Friday for a three-day run.
Later in the day, the two chiefs are scheduled to join their Japanese counterpart for trilateral talks expected to center on sharing military intelligence to deter North Korea. (Yonhap)