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S. Korea, U.S. mapping out new plan to counter N.K.

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Yonhap News) ― The chief South Korean and U.S. military officers met Tuesday at the Pentagon to sign a preliminary agreement for a new operational plan against potential North Korean provocations, sources and officials said.

Army Gen. Jung Seung-jo, chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Washington earlier in the day after visiting a military command near Chicago, according to the sources in the U.S. capital.

The U.S. Defense Department gave no immediate confirmation of the top-level consultations with South Korea but the JCS in Seoul confirmed Jung’s meeting with his American counterpart, Gen. Martin Dempsey, in a press release on Wednesday, Korean time.

A high-ranking JCS official said the generals signed a Strategic Planning Directive as a preliminary step before the allies’ joint counter-provocation plan is completed.

The two countries have been working on the joint plan to counter any provocative acts by North Korea after its deadly artillery attack on a South Korean border island in 2010. Jung and Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the U.S. forces stationed in South Korea, are expected to sign the plan early next month.

Under the allies’ joint plan, the South will lead any counterattack against North Korean provocation with the U.S. providing reinforcements with troops stationed in South Korea and Japan, and forces from U.S. Pacific Command, military sources in Seoul have said.

According to the JCS official, Dempsey reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea, despite the U.S. plan to reduce its military expenditure.

Jung and Dempsey also discussed the security situation on the Korean Peninsula following the death of the communist nation’s leader, Kim Jong-il, the JCS in Seoul said.

Also on the agenda were preparations for the transition of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul in 2015 and a schedule for the annual joint military drills, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, according to the JCS.

According to sources, the Key Resolve exercise this year will start on Feb. 27 and go on for two weeks, involving South Korean forces and U.S. forces based in South Korea and in Japan. The South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command is expected to notify North Korea of the training schedule this week.

Pyongyang has criticized Key Resolve and other combined exercises as being preparations for assault, while Seoul and Washington have countered they are defensive in nature. In 2011, about 12,800 U.S. troops and more than 200,000 South Korean soldiers took part in Key Resolve, immediately followed by Foal Eagle.

South Korea’s military had earlier said Jung would travel to the U.S. this month but had not given exact dates, apparently to avoid antagonizing North Korea amid worries over regional security.

“South Korean military officials seem to be keeping Gen. Jung’s visit low-key,” a source in Washington said.

The JCS in Seoul said Jung arrived in the U.S. last Sunday and will stay there until Friday. He has met with chiefs of staff for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, seeking their cooperation on bilateral military issues. Jung also exchanged views on regional security with Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, the JCS said.
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