SEOUL- The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States have reaffirmed their commitment to closely coordinating to support last year’s inter-Korean military accord aimed at reducing border tensions and building trust, their offices said.
During their talks in Washington on Monday (local time), Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan also reiterated their will to closely cooperate to expedite the fulfillment of conditions needed for Washington’s envisioned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) to Seoul.Jeong and Shanahan met face to face for the first time since the latter took the Pentagon post in January.
“The secretary and the minister assessed that implementation of the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) has contributed to the easing of military tension and confidence building on the Korean Peninsula,” Seoul’s defense ministry and the Pentagon said in a press release.
The Koreas’ defense chiefs signed the CMA at the close of the third summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang last September. It entails a series of trust-building and arms control measures under a broader scheme to halt all hostile acts against each other.
Jeong and Shanahan underscored their will to further reinforce the alliance through the “synchronized” efforts of their militaries amid ongoing peace efforts with North Korea.
“The secretary and minister affirmed that the U.S.-ROK alliance is ‘ironclad’ and ready to face an evolving security environment,” the press release reads. ROK stands for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.
“The two sides reaffirmed the commitment to maintain an unwavering combined readiness posture while continuing to support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” it added.Gen. Robert Abrams, the commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, gave the defense chiefs an evaluation of the allies’ new exercise staged last month. He said that it has strengthened the militaries’ combined readiness and contributed to the groundwork for the OPCON transfer.Abrams was referring to the Dong Maeng command post exercise that replaced the Key Resolve exercise. Dong Maeng is the Korean word for alliance.
Critics discounted the new exercise as a downsized version of the Key Resolve, raising concerns that it could undermine the allies’ defense posture. But Shanahan disagreed.”I don’t think we’re scaling back exercises. I think we’re building capability up,” the acting secretary said.He added that the allies learned “lessons” from the new exercise and will look to apply them to future drills.
“We want to make sure that there are no gaps or seams, and that we continue to build on these exercises,” he said. “We’re going to talk about the September exercises and the lessons learned from these ones in March.”
Jeong said that the March drills concluded “successfully” and added that it served as a “useful” opportunity to confirm the allies’ defense posture.The two sides also agreed to work toward initial operational capability (IOC) certification of a South Korea-led combined defense posture later this year, and committed to stay in close consultation, the press release said.
Seoul and Washington have been pushing for the conditions-based OPCON transfer after which the former will lead wartime operations with the latter playing a supporting role.Following the IOC certification slated for this summer, the two sides are expected to verify Seoul’s full operational and mission capabilities in the following years.South Korean President Moon is due to travel to Washington to meet U.S. President Donald Trump on April 11.