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Seoul, Washington to hold biannual defense talks this week

(AFP-Yonhap)
(AFP-Yonhap)

South Korea and the US will hold biannual defense talks this week, discussing regional security and bilateral issues, including the planned transfer of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday.

The 18th Korea-US Integrated Defense Dialogue is set to take place Wednesday and Friday via videoconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Deputy Defense Minister Chung Suk-hwan and David Helvey, US assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs, will lead the discussion.

“During the meeting, Korea and the US will share the assessment on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, and discuss major bilateral issues, including cooperation for the denuclearization and establishing permanent peace on the Peninsula, and conditions-based transition of the wartime operational control and enhancing defense cooperation to develop the alliance,” the ministry said in a statement.

The two sides are expected to share their assessments of the North’s upcoming military parade in October, during which it could unveil a new intercontinental ballistic missile or other strategic weapons.

The officials will also touch on the OPCON transfer issue. Seoul has been aiming to complete the transfer of the wartime OPCON of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul by 2022, before the current Moon Jae-in administration ends.

But due to the COVID-19 situation, which reduced the scope of the annual summertime joint military drill this year, the transfer could be further delayed.

Seoul was planning to complete the Full Operational Capability test, the second step in a three-phase verification process required for the transfer, this year and the final step of Full Mission Capability next year. But the two sides failed to fully carry out the Full Operational Capability test this year, so it may be conducted during the springtime exercise next year.

Observers also say Washington could raise the issue of including South Korea as a member of the expanded strategic grouping of four countries known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which holds semiregular summits and joint military drills.

The US has been seeking to expand the Quad, which comprises the US, Japan, Australia and India, to include three additional countries -- South Korea, Vietnam and New Zealand -- in an apparent move to prevent China from gaining more influence in the region.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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