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Troop control transfer delayed

U.S., Korea agree to defer handover by more than three years, to 2015  PLAY AUDIO

June 28,2010
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama, right, during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Toronto, Saturday. [Joint Press Corps]

TORONTO - Leaders of South Korea and the United States have delayed Seoul’s scheduled takeover of wartime operational control of its troops to Dec. 1, 2015, pushing back the transfer date three years and seven months.

The decision was made at a meeting between Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Barack Obama before the Group of 20 financial summit here on Saturday. The two leaders also discussed security issues and North Korea’s recent provocation, government officials said.

When the 1950-53 Korean War began, South Korea handed over peacetime and wartime operational control of its soldiers to the U.S.-led United Nations Command, after which the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command gained the authority. In 1994, Seoul regained peacetime control, and the Roh Moo-hyun administration struck a deal with Washington in 2007 that Seoul would command its troops in wartime starting April 17, 2012.

The Lee administration, however, has said an altered security environment on the Peninsula made the transfer of authority inappropriate. Since the agreement in 2007, North Korea conducted a second nuclear test in May 2009.

Now that a new date has been chosen, Lee and Obama agreed to order their defense policy makers to map out a new transition plan as well. Defense and foreign affairs ministers of the two nations will meet in July. The two presidents said they expect the meeting to bolster their alliance.

In a media briefing, Kim Sung-hwan, Blue House senior secretary for foreign affairs and security, rejected some liberal politicians’ views that Seoul was abandoning its “military sovereignty.” He also dismissed speculation that Washington had requested something in return for agreeing with Seoul’s request.

North Korea’s torpedo attack on the warship Cheonan in March, which killed 46 sailors, was also discussed at the Lee-Obama summit. According to the Blue House, the two leaders reaffirmed their stance that North Korea must be held accountable.

“There has to be consequences for such irresponsible behavior,” Obama told the media after the meeting. South Korea has already brought the issue to the United Nations Security Council, and Obama said Washington stands “foursquare” behind Seoul.

The impasse over the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement also faced a possible turning point when Obama told Lee that he intends to ask Congress for a vote after November.

The deal was a product of the Roh and George W. Bush administrations in 2007, and it has not been ratified by either of the countries’ legislatures. U.S. automakers have expressed dissatisfaction over the deal, and it has been criticized by farmers and service industry workers in Korea.

“I want to make sure that everything is lined up properly by the time I visit Korea in November [for the G-20 Summit],” Obama said, “and in the few months that follow that, I intend to present it to Congress.” Obama said that the deal has potential economic benefits, including the creation of jobs in the United States.

In his media briefing, Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon called Obama’s remarks “a specific and strong proposal.”

“It is first time that Obama openly gave a directive to the United States trade representatives,” Kim said. He also said the U.S. seeks adjustments before submitting the pact to Congress, but there will be no renegotiation.

Following his meeting with the U.S. leader, Lee held a bilateral summit with his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, on Saturday.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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