‘2 plus 2’ security meeting set for Seoul next week

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‘2 plus 2’ security meeting set for Seoul next week

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will visit Seoul next week for the first “two plus two” security meeting with their Korean counterparts.

Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced that talks between the two countries’ top diplomats and defense chiefs will take place on July 21 in Seoul, confirming the schedule of the long-anticipated event.

The meeting comes at a time when Seoul is engaged in a delicate diplomatic effort to build support and ward off further attacks from Pyongyang in the wake of the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan warship, as well as to calm Beijing over a South Korea-U.S. joint military drill in the sea between Korea and China.

“The officials, during the upcoming meeting, will evaluate the Korea-U.S. alliance in marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War and how to strengthen the alliance, discuss North Korean policies and cooperation in other regional and global issues,” Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday.

The top four officials are expected to hold a press conference on July 21 at the government complex at Gwang-hwamun in downtown Seoul.

“Given the timing of the meeting, the officials are expected to discuss issues like post-Cheonan North Korea policies or the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement,” said one senior Seoul official. Since government negotiators signed the trade pact in June 2007, neither country’s legislatures have ratified it. Critics in Washington say the pact gives Korean carmakers unfettered access to the U.S. market and Korean farmers argue that their livelihoods will be destroyed by cheap rice and other U.S. farm products.

The official also said Washington and Seoul are “closely communicating” with each other on how to proceed with the much-delayed joint naval exercise on the Yellow Sea. Korea and the U.S. are expected to hold the exercises to warn North Korea against further provocative actions in the Yellow Sea after the fatal attack on the Cheonan, which left 46 South Korean naval soldiers dead. Beijing has loudly opposed the massive anti-submarine exercise, which is supposed to involve a U.S. aircraft carrier and fighter jets, because the drill will take place near its waters.


By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

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