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New US general stresses team spirit amid disputes

Gen. Paul LaCamera speaks during a change of command ceremony at Camp Humphreys, the US military headquarters in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, July 2, 2021. (Yonhap)
Gen. Paul LaCamera speaks during a change of command ceremony at Camp Humphreys, the US military headquarters in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, July 2, 2021. (Yonhap)
PYEONGTAEK, Gyeonggi Province -- Gen. Paul LaCamera, the new US military chief in South Korea, said he is looking to work with Seoul as one team and take the Seoul-Washington alliance to greater heights in his first public address after taking office on Friday.

The change of command ceremony, which took place at Camp Humphreys, the US military headquarters in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, comes as the two allies seek to resolve disputes involving Seoul’s plan to retake wartime command and to renew stalled nuclear talks with North Korea.

“The ROK-US alliance remains the cornerstone of stability and security in Northeast Asia and that partnership continues to grow through economic cooperation, mitigating threats to regional stability and fulfilling our commitments,” he said. The Republic of Korea is South Korea’s official name.

LaCamera, a former Army Pacific commander who replaced Gen. Robert Abrams as the top general heading the 28,500-strong American troops here, will lead the Korea-US joint forces and the United Nations Command.

“We learn from each other, we create combat readiness together and more importantly, we build trust together,” LaCamera said.

The two allies have yet to work out differences over Seoul’s plan to retake wartime operational control from Washington, which has been responsible for it since the 1950-53 Korean War. The Moon Jae-in administration is pursuing to make that change before he leaves office in May next year.

But the two countries failed to test the South Korea’s readiness to reclaim the role last year because of the pandemic; they are expected to push it back again this year as coronavirus restrictions have prevented overseas US troops from flying in here to take part in the joint drills.

The US has said bringing in those troops are essential. LaCamera said earlier at his US Senate hearing that he expected to see South Korea take over the command in several years.

“Gen. Abrams helped pave the way for a smooth transfer of the wartime command,” Defense Minister Suh Wook said at the ceremony, adding he expected to keep working with his successor toward a robust readiness.

Seoul and Washington have held the drills since the 1953 Korean War armistice to ensure readiness against Pyongyang’s aggression. But this time South Korea is mulling a scaled-down exercise or even skipping the drills altogether in August in hopes to reopen a dialogue with North Korea, which has objected to them.

Experts have strongly warned against skipping the drills, saying a suspension would do little to bring about a lasting inter-Korean detente. North Korea has said the US should offer more concessions for the talks to resume.

LaCamera has said he supported holding regular joint drills to bolster readiness but noted Seoul and Washington could discuss specifics of the plan to give room for diplomacy with North Korea.

By Choi Si-young and Joint Press Corps (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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