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Defense ministry denies media report on alleged push for time-based OPCON transfer

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (Reuters-Yonhap)
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (Reuters-Yonhap)
South Korea and the United States are working closely on the conditions-based wartime operational control (OPCON) transfer, as agreed upon earlier, the defense ministry said Monday, rebutting a media report that Seoul seeks to fix a date for the goal.

Earlier in the day, local daily JoongAng Ilbo reported that South Korea abandoned its goal of regaining the operational control of its troops from Washington by the end of President Moon Jae-in's term, and instead aims to clearly fix a transition date by the end of 2021, citing government sources.

"The report is not true. South Korea and the US are pushing for the OPCON transition under close consultations in accordance with the conditions-based plan," ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan told a regular briefing.

No exact timeframe has been set for the envisioned transition, though the current Moon Jae-in administration has hoped to retake it within Moon's term that ends in May 2022.

The Seoul ministry has vowed to redouble efforts to achieve the goal swiftly, but it has acknowledged that plans to verify those conditions have been delayed and any plans or policy goals are subject to change.

"(South Korea and the US) are having consultations on combined military exercises and the implementation of a Full Operational Capability (FOC) test," Boo added.

The FOC test, meant to check if Seoul is on course to meet the conditions, was supposed to be held in 2020, but the two sides were not able to do that due to the COVID-19 situation.

The test will be part of their major combined exercises this year, with the springtime one to take place around March, according to ministry officials.

The right conditions for the transition are South Korea's capability to lead the allies' combined defense mechanism, its capacity for initial responses to the North's nuclear and missile threats and a stable security environment on the peninsula and in the region. (Yonhap)