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USFK commander to attend Seoul defense dialogue

US Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams is set to attend a three-day annual multilateral security forum in Seoul that kicks off Wednesday, officials said Tuesday, dispelling concerns about South Korea-US relations. 

Abrams, who is also commander of the Combined Forces Command, will be the highest-ranking US official to attend the eighth edition of the Seoul Defense Dialogue.

The US had earlier declined the South Korean Defense Ministry’s request for the attendance of an assistant undersecretary-level official, citing a scheduling conflict. 

US Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams (AP)
US Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams (AP)

The ministry had then requested for the attendance of US Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris, but it had not received a reply, stoking speculation that Washington might not be keen to participate in the forum due to Seoul’s decision to end a military information-sharing pact with Japan, and the early return of US military bases.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry announced Sunday that South Korea and the US would relocate their CFC headquarters from Seoul to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, by the end of 2021, which will speed up the return of US military bases.

The US had sent an assistant undersecretary or the deputy commander of the USFK to the Seoul Defense Dialogue in previous years. It had not informed Seoul who was going to attend this year until the last minute.

Abrams will attend a number of sessions including the opening ceremony and a dinner meeting. It has not been confirmed whether he will have separate meetings with South Korean military officials on the sidelines of the vice-ministerial forum.

This year’s Seoul Defense Dialogue will be the largest ever, with hundreds of officials and experts from 56 countries and five international organizations attending. The event started in 2012 with the participation of 15 countries and two international organizations.

China, Russia and Japan, which have recently had strained military relations with South Korea, are sending lower-level officials to the event this year.

“There are concerns about discord between Seoul and Washington, but the two allies have no military problems, and are maintaining a firm joint military readiness,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry official said.

Under the theme of “Building Peace Together: Challenges and Visions,” the defense dialogue will have sessions focusing on the peace process and arms control on the Korean Peninsula, as well as security issues in Northeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Middle East, according to the ministry.

By Kim So-hyun (