Defense looks to establish ties with new U.S. president

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Defense looks to establish ties with new U.S. president

The Korean Ministry of National Defense on Thursday decided to launch a policy response team to evaluate the impact of Donald J. Trump’s election as the next U.S. president on the Korea-U.S. alliance.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo convened an emergency meeting as Seoul scrambled to analyze what a Trump presidency means for Korea’s military relations with the United States, following alarming remarks the president-elect has made during the campaign trail.

The meeting was also attended by Gen. Lee Sun-jin, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and ruling Saenuri Party Rep. Kim Young-woo, head of the parliamentary National Defense Committee.

“The Defense Ministry will launch a national defense policy aimed at safeguarding our relationship with the United States,” Moon Sang-gyun, the ministry’s spokesman, said in a briefing Thursday. “As the new U.S. administration formulates its defense policies toward the Korean Peninsula, we plan to reach out to U.S. personnel and closely communicate and negotiate advancing the Korea-U.S. alliance.”

This task force will support previous defense agreements with Washington, such as the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in Korea.

Moon said, “We plan to push for existing agreements between Korea and U.S. to follow through as normal, such as the regular deployment of the Thaad system, the transfer of wartime operational control, as well as for negotiations for the permanent deployment of U.S. strategic assets on a rotational basis.”

He added, “In order to deter all types of North Korean provocations, including its nuclear and missile threats, we will continue to maintain a strong South Korea-U.S. combined defense posture.”

During his campaign, Trump has called for Seoul to pay substantially more for the maintenance of some 28,000 troops in South Korea, saying the United States is “paid peanuts” for their deployment.

He ignored that Seoul pays around half of the cost of stationing the troops in Korea under the Status of Forces Agreement, and numerous experts have pointed out that the stationing of troops in Korea is of strategic interest to the United States. He has also implied that Korea and Japan should seek nuclear armament, claiming Washington cannot afford to continue to extend its nuclear umbrella to the region. Seoul has its share of support for South Korea’s nuclear armament, but U.S. officials and experts point out this would be harmful to international relations.

“What he said during his campaign will have to become policy, so we will continue to observe the situation,” Moon said, “We expect that even though a new U.S. administration is launched, the alliance treaty with South Korea will continue to be maintained. We believe we do not have to worry over every single thing.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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