Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin on Wednesday indicated a prolonged discussion with the U.S. over the proposed rescheduling of the transfer of wartime operational control of Korean troops.
After talks with his U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel in Brunei, he told reporters that there is no deadline for the decision and that the two sides need more time for working-level consultations.
Kim again made Seoul’s case for delaying the transfer, currently slated for December 2015, and Hagel “sufficiently understood” it, according to Seoul officials.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin shakes hands with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, Wednesday. (Defense Ministry)
Kim, however, pointed out it was still premature to say whether the Pentagon chief shared Seoul’s view given that the proposed delay was not an issue for the defense official alone to determine.
“It is not just a military issue, but something that requires in-depth discussions that should involve political, diplomatic and comprehensive considerations,” Kim said in a meeting with reporters after the talks with Hagel.
Their meeting was held on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus in the Bruneian capital of Bandar Seri Begawan.
During their talks, the allies agreed to continue to hold working-level and high-level meetings including talks between the allies’ assistant deputy defense ministers and their annual Security Consultative Meeting slated to take place in Seoul in October.
During the meeting with the press, Minister Kim said the allies needed consultations on three major “technical conditions.”
“The first one is reevaluating the security environments between the time when the allies agreed to the OPCON transfer and the time after the North launched a long-range missile (last December) and conducted a third nuclear test (in February),” said Kim.
“The second is Korea’s level of capabilities to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and the third is Korea’s military capabilities to exercise wartime operational control.”
Initially scheduled for April 2012, the transfer was first delayed to the end of 2015 in June 2010 amid Pyongyang’s continuing provocations, including the torpedoing of the South Korean corvette Cheonan that killed 46 sailors.
The allies agreed in 2007 to transfer wartime operational control in April 2012 as the Roh Moo-hyun administration had sought to enhance Korea’s military self-reliance and “balance” the alliance with the U.S.
Conservatives here have said that the OPCON transfer could embolden an increasingly provocative Pyongyang.
They also argue it would weaken the U.S. security commitment to the South as Washington seeks to reorganize its forces to make them more flexible, agile and rapid in responding to regional and global security challenges, rather than focusing them in a limited zone.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org