U.S. bill calls for Opcon schedule to be delayed

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U.S. bill calls for Opcon schedule to be delayed

A U.S. House of Representatives committee unanimously passed a bill that contained an amendment that recommends delaying the transfer of wartime operational control (Opcon) from Washington to Seoul.

The bill’s passage follows an agreement made last month between Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The House Armed Services Committee passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 at a meeting on Wednesday, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

The act contained an amendment on “strengthening the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea,” as well as delaying the transfer of operational command from U.S. forces to Seoul.

“The United States and the Republic of Korea have decided that due to the evolving security environment in the region, including the enduring North Korean nuclear and missile threat, the current timeline to the transition of wartime operational control [Opcon] to a Republic of Korea-led defense in 2015 can be reconsidered,” the bill states. “The United States supports the vision of a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons, free from the fear of war and peacefully reunited on the basis of democratic and free market principles, as articulated in President Park’s Dresden Address.”

Park and Obama agreed in April at a summit in Seoul to consider once again postponing Korea’s takeover of Opcon. It is currently scheduled for 2015. The United States was originally slated to transfer wartime operational control in 2012 but pushed it back to 2015 at the request of the Lee Myung-bak administration in June 2010.

Korean and U.S. defense authorities began talks last year to extend the deadline for the transferring of wartime operational control as new security challenges were posed by North Korea, including a series of nuclear tests. The bill says that the reconsideration comes amid growing concerns over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and its other military provocations against South Korea and neighboring countries.

“The United States and the Republic of Korea continue to strengthen and adapt the alliance to serve as a linchpin of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” it said. “The United States and Republic of Korea share deep concerns that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missiles programs and its repeated provocations pose grave threats to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.”

The bill adds that the U.S. Congress “welcomes” South Korea’s ratification of a new five-year Special Measures Agreement, in which South Korea agreed to increase its annual contributions by 920 billion won ($898 million) toward the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the country.

Democratic Representative Loretta Sanchez, of California, also offered an amendment on Wednesday at the meeting, urging Japan to officially acknowledge and apologize for the Japanese Imperial Army’s forceful recruitment of Asian women and girls into military brothels during World War II.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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