Korea, U.S. could delay wartime control transfer

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Korea, U.S. could delay wartime control transfer

South Korea and the United States both feel the need to delay transferring wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul under the current climate, a senior government official said this week.

Some South Korean officials have recently called for a delay of the transfer, which is scheduled to take place in April 2012, because of persistent threats from North Korea.

Addressing reporters in a background briefing Monday, the senior official explained that under the South Korea-U.S. agreement on the planned transfer, the two sides can discuss delaying the shift of the control by one to two years.

Problems related to the security situation on the Korean Peninsula or to strategic weapons could warrant such discussions, the official added.

“But the problem is that some people would like to see the transfer itself entirely reconsidered,” the official said. “The [conservative] Korea Retired Generals and Admirals Association has called for changes to the existing terms of the deal because its members are worried about the adverse impact that the control transfer could have on the peninsula.

“But that may be difficult to do. The two governments are trying to stick to the current deal as it is,” the official said.

Conservatives have said the timing of the transfer is undesirable because of political uncertainties. Both South Korea and the United States will have presidential elections in 2012.

Proponents of the delay of the transfer also say the South won’t be able to secure all the weapons necessary to assume wartime control.

In addition, North Korea has declared that by 2012 it will develop into a powerful and prosperous nation. With no end in sight to the ongoing nuclear standoff, conservatives believe North Korea will continue to develop its nuclear arsenal and will have capabilities beyond South Korea’s defensive capacity by 2012.

This argument gained more traction last year. North Korea fired a long-range rocket in April, conducted a nuclear test in May, and then continued to launch missiles through the summer, in defiance of the international community.

In 2007, then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and his U.S. counterpart, George W. Bush, agreed that South Korea would start controlling its military in wartime starting in 2012.

Last month, the South’s Defense Minister Kim Tae-young joined other conservative figures in calling for the delay of the 2012 handover. Kim, a former four-star army general, once said in a seminar that the South’s receiving wartime control in 2012 would be “a worst-case scenario for the military,”

By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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