Operational control talks under way

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Operational control talks under way


South Korea’s Deputy Minister of Defense Lim Kwan-bin, right, and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David F. Helvey exchange greeting at the Integrated Defense Dialogue in Seoul yesterday. By Kang Jung-hyun

South Korea and the United States will hold high-level defense talks to postpone the transfer of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul while inter-Korean military tensions remain high.

The fourth round of so-called Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD) will take place in Seoul over two days this week, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry. They started yesterday and encompass the Security Policy Initiative (SPI), the Strategic Alliance 2015 Working Group (SAWG) and meetings of the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee. The talks will mainly focus on nuclear threats from North Korea but will now also deal with postponing South Korea’s takeover of wartime operational control from Washington, which is scheduled for December 2015.

“We are planning to discuss the matter of the handover of wartime operational control at the SAWG session, based on the security situation such as the serious threats from North Korea’s nuclear weapons,” Kim Min-seok, Defense Ministry spokesman, said at a daily briefing on Monday.

“As the current situation surrounding North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has become totally different from in 2007 and 2010, we will closely look into the current situation and review the conditions and the situations regarding the transfer of the control.”

Operational control of Korean troops in wartime was supposed to be transferred to Seoul in April 2012, but the Lee Myung-bak government asked Washington to delay the transfer until December 2015.

At the two-day talks, South Korea will send Lim Kwan-bin, deputy defense minister for policy, as its chief negotiator. His U.S. counterpart will be David F. Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia.

In the South Korean delegation, three high-ranking officials will attend the negotiations, who ironically worked for the transfer under the Roh Moo-hyun administration: Kim Jang-soo, chief of the National Security Council, who was a former defense minister; Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and National Intelligence Service Chief Nam Jae-joon, a former Army chief of staff.

National Security Chief Kim signed the agreement on April 17, 2007 that promised to transfer control to South Korea in April 2012.

At the time, Roh ordered Kim to push for a transfer in 2009 but Kim claimed it was “impossible based on the current directing system.”

Under the Lee Myung-bak administration, Kim was still positive about the transfer, saying, “South Korea should endure the costs of the transfer” in May 2009.

Under the Park Geun-hye administration, Kim changed his tune, saying on April 18, “We should take some time for the transfer considering the current security situation.”

Kim will visit the United States in September and explain why the allies should delay the handover.

“The transfer of operational control is an extremely important issue for national security, so it should be a decision of the government, not someone’s personal belief,” an aide to Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday. “The current situation and North Korea’s threats are totally different from those times when he called for the transfer.”

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin also worked for the transfer under the Roh administration.

Kim showed his changed attitude at talks between Korean and American defense ministers on June 1 in Singapore. Kim formally requested the delay of the transfer because South Korea needs time to build up its own defense forces in response to increasing threats from North Korea.

Unlike the two Kims, NIS Chief Nam has been against the transfer for a long time.

BY KIM HEE-JIN, JEONG YONG-SOO [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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