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Blinken, Austin to visit Korea after flying to Japan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington on Feb. 26, 2021 in this photo released by the Associated Press. (AP-Yonhap)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington on Feb. 26, 2021 in this photo released by the Associated Press. (AP-Yonhap)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with South Korean counterparts in mid-March following a three-day trip to Japan, in what is seen as part of their Asian tour to solidify a coalition to deal with the rise of China, sources said Friday, adding the meeting would fall on March 17-18.

“We’re still coordinating with the US and nothing is definitive yet,” a Foreign Ministry official said. The meeting will mark the first senior level talks between the two allies since US President Joe Biden took office in January.

Seoul and Washington are expected to discuss pressing issues, including policy on North Korea and a timeline for South Korea to retake the wartime operational command from the US.

Korea and the US do not see eye to eye on those topics as Seoul favors more engagement with Pyongyang rather than sanctions, and seeks to reclaim wartime control of its forces much earlier than Washington sees it as fitting.

Speculation is mounting over whether the two allies would use the event to highlight their alliance as they have come close to inking an agreement that could settle a prolonged dispute over how they should share the cost of maintaining 28,500 American troops here.

Seoul’s chief negotiator flew to Washington on Thursday for potentially the last round of negotiations to close the deal, which has been elusive since September 2019, when the two allies first started the talks.

Some speculate the March talks could address climate change as well, since Presidents Moon and Biden will discuss the global initiative in a videoconference on April 22, Earth Day. The following month, the two leaders will meet again at another summit on green projects that Seoul hosts.

Cheong Wa Dae said nothing has been decided regarding a meeting between the two US secretaries and President Moon.

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