S. Korea, U.S. hold biannual defense talks
SEOUL-- South Korea's decision to terminate a military information-sharing deal with Japan and the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) are likely among the key agenda items of the ongoing biannual defense talks between Seoul and Washington, officials said Thursday.
The allies opened the 16th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD), set to run until Friday, in Seoul earlier in the day at a time when they face sensitive bilateral issues as well as security challenges posed by North Korea.
"The two sides are to discuss the overall security issues of the two countries, including cooperation for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a lasting peace, the conditions-based transition of the wartime operational control (OPCON) and ways to deepen the future alliance," the ministry said in a release.
Deputy Defense Minister Chung Suk-hwan represents South Korea, and Heino Klinck, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, leads the U.S. delegation, according to the ministry.
During the meeting, the allies are expected to assess the security situation on the Korean Peninsula amid North Korea's launches of short-range projectiles, including ballistic missiles, in succession in recent months. Pyongyang carried out 10 rounds of major weapons tests so far this year, with the latest one taking place earlier this month.
Also on the table during the meeting could be the results of their first round of negotiations on a fresh Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that will determine how much Seoul should pay to station the 28,500 American troops in the country.
Following their two-day negotiations that ended on Wednesday, Seoul and Washington agreed to work toward a "reasonable and fair" sharing of costs. The next round of the talks will be held in the U.S. in October, with the current deal to expire at the end of this year.
The allies are also expected to discuss the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between South Korea and Tokyo, which Seoul last month announced it would end after Japan imposed export curbs on the South in apparent retaliation against the top court's rulings on wartime forced labor.
Expressing disappointment, Washington has called on South Korea to withdraw the decision, as the pact was seen as a rare platform to promote trilateral security cooperation.
The Seoul government has said it could reconsider the decision if Japan retracts the export curbs.
The allies could also discuss the role and authority of the U.S.-led United Nations Command (UNC) after the envisioned OPCON transfer, according to observers.
The UNC's future role has emerged as a key alliance issue recently, as the two sides have shown differences amid speculation that the U.S. could be trying to expand and strengthen the UNC in an attempt to keep control of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) even after the OPCON transfer.
The return of U.S. military base sites in South Korea could also be an agenda item, as the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae last month said it will seek the prompt return of 26 American military bases to its control. U.S. Forces Korea later said that some of the bases have already been vacated and that it remains committed to returning installations as expeditiously as possible.
Launched in 2011, KIDD is a comprehensive defense meeting between the allies that integrates a set of consultative mechanisms, such as the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee and the Security Policy Initiative.
Source: Yonhap News Agency