By Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States agreed Monday to hold high-level talks on arms control in Washington at an early date, the foreign ministry said.
The two sides reached the agreement during talks between Marshall Billingslea, special U.S. presidential envoy for arms control, and Ham Sang-wook, deputy foreign minister for multilateral and global affairs, in Seoul, the ministry said.
“The two sides agreed to hold a South Korea-U.S. senior-level meeting on arms control and nonproliferation and also agreed to continue to strengthen communication on key related issues at each level,” the ministry said in a press release.
During the talks, they also exchanged views on key international regimes on arms reduction and nonproliferation, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and discussed ways for further cooperation in that field, it added.
The U.S. diplomat arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a two-day visit. On Monday, he paid a courtesy call on First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and discussed bilateral relations.
Billingslea’s visit comes as Washington has ramped up its call on its allies and friends in Asia to join its various initiatives to counter Chinese threats, including developing defense capabilities.
In a pre-trip interview with Yonhap News Agency, Billingslea said the purpose of his visit is to discuss “the rapid Chinese buildup of nuclear weapons and ballistic and conventional missiles.” The envoy also said he will share “additional intelligence to share with our ally regarding the Chinese programs.”
Observers expect that Billingslea could use this trip to step up the U.S. call for Seoul to cooperate in its push for the deployment of medium- and intermediate-range missiles in Asia.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said last year that the U.S. wants to deploy conventional ground-based missiles in Asia, a day after the U.S. withdrew from the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed with the former Soviet Union.
China has strongly objected to the idea and warned South Korea and Japan against such deployments.
In the recent interview, Billingslea said the U.S. is willing to help South Korea prepare against missile threats from its neighbors, but it will be up to Seoul to decide what defense capabilities it wants to build.