Delay in transfer of troop control angers liberals

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Delay in transfer of troop control angers liberals

Political parties’ reacted with sharp differences to news that South Korea and the U.S. agreed to delay Seoul’s takeover of wartime operational control of troops to Dec. 1, 2015.

Liberal parties strongly criticized the agreement, with the Democratic Party saying it was a “closed-door diplomatic move with no consultations.”

“We strongly protest and warn against this decision, which is basically giving up our military defense rights,” said Jun Byung-hun, the DP’s chief strategist, during a press conference yesterday. “Our party received no reports during the negotiation process of the economic burden on the public purse that will result from this,” said Jun.

Democratic Party spokesman Noh Young-min said the initial plan to transfer control in April 2012 was agreed in the “most conservative way possible by both South Korea and the U.S. in 2007,” and that North Korea’s nuclear weapon capability was fully taken into consideration. “So that cannot be a reasonable excuse for this delay,” he said.

“President Lee Myung-bak has left another wound on the South Korean public’s self-esteem,” DP Rep. Chun Jung-bae said.

The ruling Grand National Party took the opposition line. “[The originally planned date] 2012 is too soon and we are not yet prepared for the takeover considering the overall situation of the Korean Peninsula and public sentiment in South Korea, which thinks it should be delayed,” said Cho Hae-jin, spokesman for the GNP. “We should better prepare ourselves for the takeover,” Cho said.

Lee Hoi-chang, head of the conservative Liberty Forward Party, said the delay was vital not only for South Korea but the U.S. as well. “The takeover delay was much needed to maintain world peace, especially considering the tensions today in Northeast Asia because of the recent Cheonan attack,” said Lee.

“This decision ... was a very logical one,” said Kim Jang-soo, defense minister during Roh Moo-hyun’s administration.

“In order for the military to accumulate more military intelligence and commanding abilities by 2015, more money will have to be spent by the defense ministry,”

Kim Sung-hwan, Blue House senior secretary for foreign affairs and security, denied that point.

“There will be no additional costs [because of the decision],” he said at a media briefing after the decision was announced from the G-8 Summit in Canada.

Kim said that according to the original schedule, the handover of control would have come at a tumultuous time.

“Our presidential elections are set to take place in 2012, and the terms of both China’s Hu Jintao as well as Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev will come to a close that year,” said Kim.

“The U.S. will also be holding elections in 2012 and North Korea has made clear their goal of becoming a ‘strong and powerful nation’ by 2012. There are many things happening then that could possibly throw the area off balance.”

South Korea and the United States also agreed in January last year that the U.S. military headquarters currently located in Yongsan, Seoul, would be relocated to an expanded military base in Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi by 2014.

The Blue House said the 2015 takeover date would be “more efficient” with the garrison fully relocated.

Blue House senior secretary Kim said the takeover date was now “final.”


By Seo Seung-wook, Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
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