Wartime command delay could be decided soon

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Wartime command delay could be decided soon

Seoul and Washington could soon announce a delay in the transfer of wartime command from the U.S. to South Korea, a high-ranking military source in Seoul said yesterday.

According to the source, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama could make the announcement during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Toronto, Canada from June 26 to 27.

“Our two countries have formed a consensus that the transfer of the wartime operational control, scheduled for April 2012, should be pushed back to effectively handle crises on the Korean Peninsula,” the source said. The two countries agreed in 2007 to give the command of forces to South Korea.

“The Defense Ministry and the U.S. Defense Department have just begun consultations. If they pick up speed, the two presidents should be able to make the call at the summit.”

The source said that the leaders may only announce a delay, or could give a specific date “depending on the progress of the consultations.”

“It’s unlikely that the current talks will fall through,” the source said. “But if things for some reason don’t work out, then the issue will be discussed at the meeting of foreign and defense ministers from both countries scheduled for July.”

This Friday, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young will meet U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Singapore during the Asian Security Summit. Possible military responses to the sinking of the Cheonan will dominate their discussions, but Kim and Gates could also discuss the transfer of control.

Some within the South Korean government believe the transfer may take place in 2015 or 2016, when the Eighth U.S. Army headquarters and the Second Infantry Division will be relocated from central Seoul to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi.

Another government official acknowledged the talks over the delaying of the transfer but said they were still at an early stage.

Arguments for postponing the transfer of control have gained traction since North Korea was blamed for the Cheonan sinking. Conservatives and retired military officers are worried about a security vacuum being created. They say that South Korea may not be able to command a counterattack against North Korea two years from now.

By Seo Seung-wook [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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