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New defense chief to travel to US to resolve disputes

Gen. Suh Wook salutes during his farewell ceremony on Sept. 18, 2020. (Yonhap)
Gen. Suh Wook salutes during his farewell ceremony on Sept. 18, 2020. (Yonhap)
South Korea’s Defense Minister Suh Wook will attend an annual security meeting with the US in mid-October, military sources confirmed Wednesday. He is expected to facilitate the stalled defense cost-sharing negotiations and review the plan for Seoul to take over wartime operational control from Washington.

Despite a year of negotiations, Korea and the US have yet to conclude an agreement for the upkeep of US troops here, largely because they have failed to work out differences over Washington’s demand for a dramatic hike in Seoul’s share of the costs.

Korea’s plan to take over the wartime role hit a snag after the two allies skipped this year’s annual joint military drills in March and scaled down another exercise in August over coronavirus concerns. The two countries were unable to test stage two of a three-phase scheme, fueling worries the entire takeover plan could be delayed.

After finishing the stage three test next year, Seoul expects to complete the handover process by May 2022, before President Moon Jae-in leaves office. The takeover of the wartime operational control was one of Moon’s key defense initiatives.

Defense Minister Suh was quoted as saying by a local media outlet that the October meeting would essentially be a year-end opportunity to ensure that the takeover proceeds as the Seoul government hopes.

Otherwise, Moon’s successor would have to deal with the plan, according to the report.

Suh is expected to make the trip on Korea’s Multi Role Tanker Transport, an aerial refueling tanker aircraft, breaking with convention as coronavirus concerns have made it harder to use civilian flights.

“Nothing is definitive yet on transportation,” a military official said.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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