Seoul and Washington have agreed to appoint a South Korean four-star general to lead the envisioned future joint command and relocate its headquarters from Seoul to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, the Ministry of National Defense said Monday.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan met in Seoul to discuss the pending issues and vowed to closely cooperate to back the on-going diplomatic efforts on the denuclearization of North Korea.
During the 60-minute talk, the two leaders agreed to appoint a South Korean four-star general to lead the envisioned allies’ Combined Forces Command, after the wartime operational control is transferred to Seoul from Washington.
The existing South Korea-US Combined Forces Command is currently led by Gen. Robert Abrams, a four-star US Army general, who also heads the United Sates Forces Korea and the United Nations Command.
One of the options previously discussed was to have the chairman of Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff or chief of the Ground Operations Command to lead the envisioned future joint command. But the two sides viewed it would be too much of a burden for a JCS chairman to take on more duties, a ministry official here explained.
“When I think of an alliance, the word that comes to mind is trust, incredible trust between our countries forged during combat nearly 70 years ago. That trust endures to this day,” Shanahan said.
“This is also apparent, tremendous strides that the (allies’) CFC is taking to more rapidly fulfill conditions for the transition of wartime operational control from the US commander to a South Korean commander,” he added.
The two defense chiefs also agreed to transfer the CFC headquarters, currently located in Yongsan Garrison, Seoul, to Camp Humphreys, a US military complex in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province.
Their agreement appears to overturn the previous expectations that the headquarters would move to Seoul’s Defense Ministry compound. To that, Seoul’s ministry cited four factors, including the operational efficiency, time and cost.
“(The two sides) have shared the understanding that this (relocation) measure will enhance the operational efficiency of the CFC and a combined readiness posture,” the ministry said.
Further details will be discussed by a joint working-level group, the ministry added.
As the allies are expected to conduct a combined command post exercise in August, the two leaders agreed to reinforce cooperation for the preparation.
In the military exercise, which replaces the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the two sides will test Seoul’s initial operational capability to verify whether Seoul would be able to meet the conditions required for the OPCON transfer.
Shanahan also held a meeting with President Moon Jae-in at the presidential office later in the day.
According to the presidential office, Moon and Shanahan reaffirmed the principle that sanctions should remain against North Korea until their shared goal of denuclearization is achieved.
“The alliance between South Korea and the US is more important than anything in achieving complete denuclearization and establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, by dialogue,” Moon was quoted as saying by the presidential office.
Stressing the importance of humanitarian aid to North Korea and resumption of the reunion of families separated by the Korean War, Moon also vowed to work closely with the US.
Shanahan said the strong defense posture maintained by the allies has contributed to creating room for diplomatic efforts for a peaceful resolution of the denuclearization issue on the Korean Peninsula.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)