‘2+2’ talks are U.S.-Korean milestone

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‘2+2’ talks are U.S.-Korean milestone

A half-day meeting doesn’t sound long enough for major accomplishments, but the so-called “2+2” meeting, to be held in Seoul tomorrow, will be a watershed in the partnership between Korea and the U.S., according to experts.

In the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will meet with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Defense Minister Kim Tae-young. The results of the meeting are scheduled to be announced Wednesday afternoon.

It is the first time the top officials in defense and foreign affairs from both countries have sat down together at one table in the 60-year history of the “blood alliance.” Since the 1950-53 Korean War, Washington has been Seoul’s strongest ally.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the United States has held meetings of such caliber only with Japan and Australia. Japan has not held a 2+2 meeting with the United States since 2006.

“Since the summit in April of 2008, the two countries have discussed reshaping the bilateral strategic alliance, and I guess this meeting will be able to mark the wrap-up of the talks,” said a high-ranking official at the Foreign Ministry.

The participation of other U.S. heavyweights, apart from Clinton and Gates, is adding further significance. Kurt Campbell, assistant U.S. state secretary; Jeffrey Bader, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asia; and Dan Shapiro, NSC member with defense expertise, will attend the meeting on the U.S. side, the Foreign Ministry said.

Experts said a joint statement from the two countries after the meeting will be an evaluation of the Seoul-Washington alliance.

But, they said, it will also include details of planned joint naval drills and other measures to restrain North Korea from military provocations after the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March. An assessment of the July 9 presidential statement from the United Nations Security Council that indirectly condemned North Korea for the sinking will also be on the agenda, they said.

Sung Kim, U.S. representative at the six-party North Korean denuclearization talks, is also part of the U.S. team.

The stalled Korea-U.S. free trade agreement could be discussed as well.

Among the details of the joint naval drill that are expected to be announced after the two defense heads meet today are the dates and size of the exercise, Korean military officials said. The drill is expected to take place this month.

The U.S. Forces Korea said yesterday that the U.S.S. George Washington - the only permanent, forward-deployed aircraft carrier for the U.S. - as well as four U.S. destroyers including the U.S.S. McCampbell, U.S.S. John S. McCain and U.S.S. Lassen, will visit the ports of Busan and Jinhae tomorrow to participate in the joint drill at a later date.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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