ROK-U.S. News

Yonhap – Biegun wraps up his visit to S. Korea amid stalled N.K. diplomacy

By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, July 9 (Yonhap) — U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun wrapped up his three-day visit to South Korea and departed for Japan on Thursday after expressing full U.S. support for inter-Korean cooperation and reaffirming willingness to reengage with North Korea.

Biegun and his delegation took off from the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, at about 4 p.m., according to diplomatic sources. In Tokyo, he is expected to hold talks with Japanese officials before flying back to the United States on Friday.

The trip by the No. 2 American diplomat, who doubles as the top U.S. envoy for North Korea, came amid the prolonged deadlock in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang and chilly cross-border ties after the North’s blowing up of an inter-Korean liaison office.

On Wednesday, Biegun expressed Washington’s strong support for inter-Korean cooperation and reaffirmed that the U.S. is ready to resume talks with North Korea at any time. He also used the trip to highlight the firm alliance between Washington and Seoul.

Before heading to Tokyo, he met with Suh Hoon, Seoul’s new national security adviser, at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae earlier in the day. They discussed ways to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula and shared the need for a resumption of the nuclear dialogue.

Biegun’s visit this time did not include paying a courtesy call on President Moon Jae-in.

During his visit, Biegun held talks with First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young and Lee Do-hoon, his counterpart for North Korea affairs, and discussed North Korea and other alliance issues. He also briefly met with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun (L) stands with Lee Do-hoon, his South Korean counterpart on North Korea affairs, as he speaks to the media after his talks with Lee at Seoul's foreign ministry on July 8, 2020. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun (L) stands with Lee Do-hoon, his South Korean counterpart on North Korea affairs, as he speaks to the media after his talks with Lee at Seoul’s foreign ministry on July 8, 2020. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

Read more

KDVA’s ROK-U.S. Alliance Journal Issue: 2020-3


Download PDF Version: KDVA ROK-U.S. Alliance Journal 2020-3

Read more

STARS AND STRIPES – Seven US troops test positive for coronavirus after arriving in South Korea


SEOUL, South Korea — Seven U.S. service members tested positive for the coronavirus after traveling from the United States to South Korea in recent weeks, the military said Wednesday, raising its total number of cases to 54.

The announcement reflects the delicate balance faced by U.S. Forces Korea as it seeks to prevent the virus’ spread while continuing to bring new personnel to the divided peninsula.

All arrivals from abroad must undergo rigid testing and quarantine procedures aimed at containing any new cases.

“Since testing positive, all of the service members have been moved to an isolation facility designated for confirmed COVID-19 cases on Camp Humphreys or Osan Air Base,” USFK said in a statement, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Two of the service members initially tested negative upon arrival last month but then received positive results in the second test required before exiting the mandatory two-week quarantine, USFK said.

One of them arrived on June 21 at Incheon International Airport on a commercial flight, while the other arrived on June 24 at Osan Air Base via a government-chartered flight known as the Patriot Express.

Three others received positive results on their initial tests after arriving at Incheon on commercial flights on July 2, Monday and Wednesday, respectively, the command said.

Two tested positive soon after landing at Osan on the Patriot Express on Saturday, it added.

With the new cases, USFK said it has 14 active-duty troops isolated with the respiratory virus as most of the other patients have recovered.

Health authorities determined limited contact tracing was needed since all passengers on the flights had to be tested and quarantined for two weeks. The quarantine rooms occupied before the patients were transferred to the isolation unit were thoroughly cleaned, USFK said.

More than half of the cases reported by the command — 30 — have been overseas arrivals. Only 24 people affiliated with USFK were confirmed to be infected locally — the most recent on April 14.

“USFK continues to maintain a robust combined defense posture to protect [South Korea] against any threat or adversary while maintaining prudent preventive measures to protect the force,” it said.

The military eased anti-coronavirus restrictions for most bases on the divided peninsula in May after months of near lock-down as South Korea struggled with the pandemic.

The South has largely flattened the number of new cases daily, although it continues to suffer from cluster outbreaks and imported infections. Meanwhile, the virus continues to surge in the United States.
Twitter: @kimgamel


Read more

Yonhap – Pentagon lifts travel restrictions on 6 U.S. bases in S. Korea

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, July 3 (Yonhap) — The U.S. Department of Defense has lifted travel restrictions on six military bases in South Korea following a review of COVID-19 trends in the country.

According to a Thursday press release, the six bases met the criteria for lifting travel restrictions as of June 29.

The installations are Camp Casey, Camp Henry and Camp Humphreys, as well as the bases in Yongsan, Gunsan and Osan.

In total, restrictions have been lifted for 70 of 231 installations in the U.S. and worldwide with more than 1,000 Defense Department personnel.

The three steps for lifting restrictions are: meeting country criteria, including a 14-day declining trend in symptoms and cases of COVID-19; meeting installation criteria, such as the absence of travel restrictions; and approval by the relevant authority, such as a combatant commander.

On June 12, the Pentagon added South Korea to a list of “green locations” that meet the conditions for lifting travel restrictions.

About 28,500 American troops are currently stationed in South Korea.

Pentagon lifts travel restrictions on 6 U.S. bases in S. Korea - 1
Read more

Yonhap – N. Korea says it feels no need to ‘sit face to face with U.S.’

By Choi Kyong-ae

SEOUL, July 4 (Yonhap) — North Korea feels no need to meet with the United States for talks, a top diplomat of the communist nation said Saturday, accusing Washington of taking advantage of dialogue between the two countries only as “a tool for grappling its political crisis.”

First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui made the remark as talk of another summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gained traction recently after President Moon Jae-in said he would push for such a meeting to happen before November’s U.S. presidential election.

Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton also said Trump could meet with Kim if he believes a summit would help his reelection chances. Such a meeting could happen as an “October surprise” just before the election, he said.

“Now is a very sensitive time when even the slightest misjudgment and misstep would incur fatal and irrevocable consequences. We cannot but be shocked at the story about the summit indifferent to the present situation of the DPRK-U.S. relations,” Choe said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency in English.

The U.S. would be mistaken if it still thinks “negotiations would still work on us,” Choe said, adding the North has already “worked out detailed strategic timetable for putting under control the long-term threat from the U.S.”

“There will never be any adjustment and change in our policy, conditional on external parameters like internal political schedule of someone,” she said. Choe added that the North does not “feel any need to sit face to face with the U.S.” because Washington only sees its dialogue with Pyongyang “as nothing more than a tool for grappling its political crisis.”

North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui (Yonhap)

North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui (Yonhap)

Trump and Kim have met three times since June 2018 to try to reach a deal on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for U.S. concessions.

At the first summit in Singapore in 2018, the two leaders agreed to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, better bilateral relations and a lasting peace regime.

But their second summit in Hanoi in February last year ended without an agreement.

The two leaders met again four months later at the inter-Korean border and agreed to resume working-level negotiations. The two sides held working-level talks in Stockholm in October, but no progress was made.

“There is a person who thoughtlessly voices an intention to mediate the summit, utterly regardless of what we, the dialogue party, would think of it, and there is rumor that the U.S. ruling quarters admits the need to hold DPRK-U.S. summit before the U.S. presidential election,” Choe said.

“There are even some dreamers hoping to leverage our denuclearization measures for conditional lift of sanctions, while raising hope for ‘October surprise,'” she said.

Choe also said there is no point in holding talks or having any dealings with the U.S., claiming that Washington persists in what it calls the “hostile policy toward the DPRK in disregard of the agreements already made at the past summit.”

“It is clear to us, even without meeting, with what shallow trick the U.S. will approach us as it has neither intention nor will to go back to the drawing board,” she said.

Read more

Yonhap – U.S. nuke envoy to visit Seoul on Tuesday

SEOUL, July 6 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s foreign ministry said Monday U.S. envoy for North Korea is set to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday for talks with his counterparts amid stalled nuclear talks with North Korea.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who doubles as the point man for North Korea, plans to make a three-day visit to South Korea, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Biegun is set to hold talks with Seoul’s nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, and also meet with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arrives at Gimpo International Airport, in western Seoul, for a flight to Japan on Dec. 17, 2019, after wrapping up his trip to South Korea for talks on North Korea's denuclearization. (Yonhap)

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arrives at Gimpo International Airport, in western Seoul, for a flight to Japan on Dec. 17, 2019, after wrapping up his trip to South Korea for talks on North Korea’s denuclearization. (Yonhap)

Read more

Yonhap – Is another Trump-Kim summit possible before U.S. election?

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, July 2 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s renewed effort to revive summitry between the United States and North Korea ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November is raising questions about whether Pyongyang would warm to dialogue amid political flux in Washington.

On Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in expressed his desire to broker another summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un before the U.S. election, while cautioning against “rolling back hard-won progress in inter-Korean relations.”

Moon made the remarks after tensions flared anew due to the North’s surprise demolition last month of a joint liaison office in its border city of Kaesong and incendiary rhetoric that some say appeared aimed at solidifying internal unity and attracting the U.S.’ attention.

A new summit between Trump and Kim could create a much-awaited momentum to bring their countries’ stalled nuclear talks back on track and help advance Moon’s agenda for lasting peace on the divided peninsula.

This file photo taken June 30, 2019, shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) talking with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap)

This file photo taken June 30, 2019, shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) talking with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap)

However, questions remain whether Trump can focus on a summit deal with Kim when the U.S. leader is saddled with a host of domestic challenges, including the response to the new coronavirus and his looming reelection battle — a reason why observers say Trump may seek to simply “maintain the status quo.”

Increasingly wary of political uncertainty in the U.S., Pyongyang could also be cautious about resuming top-level dialogue, given that another no-deal summit like the one in Hanoi in February last year could deal a humiliating blow to the image of its dynastic ruler.

“For now, Trump may think he already got what he wanted — the North’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests that could directly threaten the U.S. mainland, and thus he may not be in a rush for another summit,” Nam Chang-hee, professor of international politics at Inha University, said.

“On the part of Pyongyang, it may not have much room to think about summitry as it is already struggling with worsening economic hardships. Thus, conditions do not seem to be ripe for a summit,” he added.

In a forum on Wednesday, Moon Chung-in, special security adviser to the president, noted that arranging the U.S.-North Korea summit “may not be easy” given that Trump might need to have a “clear card” that he can offer without prompting a domestic political backlash.

On Monday, Stephen Biegun, deputy U.S. secretary of state and lead nuclear negotiator, said that another summit between Trump and Kim is unlikely before the November election, though he reiterated Washington’s readiness to reengage with Pyongyang.

Biegun reportedly plans to visit South Korea next week on an apparent mission to renew the U.S.’ call for the communist regime to refrain from provocative actions and return to the negotiating table.

His South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, met Biegun late last month in Washington to coordinate their efforts to rejuvenate the sputtering efforts for peace with the North, after Pyongyang raised tensions with its provocative threats, including military action plans, which were later abruptly suspended.

Despite skepticism over the prospects of a new summit between Trump and Kim, some observers speculated that Trump could be tempted to utilize such a major diplomatic event to ease public criticism over continued reports of COVID-19 infections and deaths, racial justice protests and a pandemic-induced economic downturn.

But it remains uncertain whether the North would embrace such a one-off political stunt as Pyongyang has repeatedly warned against a U.S. diplomatic attempt designed to “suit its domestic political agenda.”

The North could also take a wait-and-see approach for the time being amid news reports that surveys of U.S. voters showed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is ahead of Trump.

“North Korea has been pushing for what it calls a frontal breakthrough, and this means it has been steeling itself for a long-term struggle amid the possibility of change of government in Washington,” said Park Won-gon, professor of diplomacy at Handong Global University.

The professor also pointed out COVID-19-related logistical hurdles in arranging the summit venue and transportation as Pyongyang has been making all-out efforts to battle the global scourge.

Read more

Stars & Stripes – US bases in Asia configure Fourth of July celebrations in coronavirus’ shadow

Fireworks explode during the Celebrate America festival at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, June 30, 2017. YASUO OSAKABE/U.S. AIR FORCE


TOKYO — U.S. military bases across the Pacific will salute 244 years of American independence with celebrations both mild and full-throated but all in the shadow of the lingering coronavirus pandemic.

At Camp Humphreys, the Army’s sprawling headquarters in South Korea, the schedule of events reads like any other Fourth of July celebration.

A DJ starts things off at 12:15 p.m. Saturday, followed by a talent show, the Eighth Army Band performance, traditional Korean dance, a Best Dad Joke Battle and more, concluding at 7 p.m. in time for fireworks at 8:45 p.m.

“Social distancing is encouraged,” is the timely advice atop the event listing on the Humphreys Morale Welfare and Recreation website.

The coronavirus surged in South Korea in late March and, so far, has tallied nearly 13,000 cases, including at least 40 people affiliated with the U.S. military. The Army began to relax its restrictions in late May as the rate of new cases per day in the country declined.

The Eighth Army, headquartered at Humphreys, on its own urged troops and their families to continue social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands often over the holiday.

At Camp Casey, 40 miles north of Seoul, the garrison plans a noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturday barbecue, with games, food, live music and displays at the Casey Gateway Club parking lot. Indoor events will include a head count to maintain social distancing, a flier for the event states.

Camp Walker, in Daegu, plans a carnival-style Liberty Fest 2020 from 4-9 p.m. at the golf course with all manner of activities, from a bouncy house to a mechanical bull. Fireworks are slated to go off at 8:45 p.m.

At bases in Japan, celebrations are muted as the U.S. military inches out of nearly three months of coronavirus restrictions. At Yokota Air Base, home of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo, the fireworks are set for 8:30 p.m. Thursday but the usual July Fourth fairground-style event is put aside this year.

“There is no petting zoo, rock wall or barbecue,” said Fred Mamiya of the Yokota Force Support Squadron who is in charge of setting up the celebration. “We are trying to stay away from the group type setting.”

The fireworks are scheduled early, Mamiya said, to allow those with weekend travel plans to see the show before setting off. Yokota’s new commander, Col. Andrew Campbell, lifted travel restrictions Monday to permit base personnel to travel around the island of Honshu, except for metro Tokyo and Yokohama.

“We ask Team Yokota members to enjoy the fireworks show from their backyard or from alternate viewing locations,” base spokeswoman Kaori Matsukasa said an email Wednesday.

Camp Zama, home of U.S. Army Japan southwest of Tokyo, canceled a parade and neighborhood parties “due to inclement weather” and substituted a dance party Saturday at the recreation center instead, masks and social distancing required. No fireworks are planned.

At Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan, an outside Fourth of July party will be partially virtual. It starts at 6 p.m. Saturday with a concert by Train, a San Francisco rock band, aired on a widescreen TV outside the base fitness center. Fireworks follow at 8:45 p.m., according to an event flyer.

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni will host a family picnic, reservations required, at the base track and field from 4-8 p.m. Saturday with live entertainment, according to the base Facebook page. No fireworks are planned.

“Face coverings and social distancing are required,” the announcement said.

At Yokosuka Naval Base, home south of Tokyo of the 7th Fleet and where the most demanding restrictions were imposed following a coronavirus outbreak there, Independence Day will be marked with softball and volleyball tournaments, a kids’ carnival and an outdoor movie.

No live fireworks are planned, but a virtual display will precede the 7:30 p.m. family movie at Berkey Field, according to the base Facebook page.

“The City of Yokosuka requested we not have [fireworks] because they are concerned about large public gatherings,” base spokesman Randall Baucom told Stars and Stripes by email Wednesday.

At Naval Air Facility Atsugi, events are planned through the weekend, including the Train virtual concert at 7:45 p.m. and a fireworks display at 8:30 p.m., both on Thursday, and a pool party Saturday, according to the base Facebook page.

The USO in Japan is hosting a virtual concert by country musician Clint Black and other performers, available on Facebook, YouTube (at and Twich (@theUSO) at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, according to a USO announcement.

On Okinawa, the Marines downsized their Fourth of July observance in deference to the prefectural government’s desire to avoid large gatherings, according to Marine Corps Community Services. Instead of the fairground-style events and parade previously planned, the Marines are setting up gourmet food-truck pods 3-9 p.m. Saturday on Camps Lester and Foster and at Plaza Housing, with fireworks at 8:15 p.m. on Camp Foster, according the community services Facebook page.

Kadena Air Base plans a drive-in movie starting at sunset Friday, with fireworks to follow around 9:15 p.m. All movie spots are taken, according to the support squadron.

Finally, U.S. Naval Base Guam plans a fireworks display at 8 p.m. Friday from Clipper Landing Park and an Independence Day Motorcade Parade through main base and Apra View housing on Saturday.

Stars and Stripes reporters T.J. Godbold, Matthew Burke and Christian Lopez contributed to this report.
Twitter: @JosephDitzler


Read more

Yonhap – S. Korea sends rotational troops to UAE using aerial tanker

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) — South Korea mobilized one of its aerial tankers Tuesday to send rotational troops to the United Arab Emirates, the defense ministry said.

The Air Force’s KC-330, named Cygnus, left Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, earlier in the day carrying the 17th batch of the 170-strong Akh Unit, according to the ministry.

It is the first time for the aerial tanker to carry out the troop transport mission since being put into service last year.

On its way back, the aircraft will bring home the 16th batch of the unit Friday.

The newly dispatched members underwent a virus test and all tested negative, the ministry said.

“Despite the COVID-19 situation, the rotation could take place in a timely manner through close bilateral coordination, which was possible thanks to the special relationship between the two countries and the confidence in South Korea’s quarantine measures,” the defense ministry said in a release.

The unit is tasked with training the Middle East country’s special forces since 2011. “Akh” means “brother” in Arabic.

“The deployment of the aerial tanker not only helps save costs, it ensures the safety of troops,” it added.

South Korea introduced four aerial tankers aimed at expanding its area of operations.

The KC-330, which measures 60.3 meters in width and 58.8 meters in length, can carry up to 245,000 pounds of fuel and is capable of refueling up to 10 F-15Ks or up to 20 KF-16s. In addition, it can carry 300 crewmembers and 47 tons of cargo.

The tanker can fly distances up to 15,320 kilometers, with a maximum flight altitude of 12,600 meters, according to the military.

Cygnus carried out its first overseas mission earlier this month when it brought home remains of 147 fallen service members from Hawaii.

Service members of South Korea's Akh Unit pose for a photo before heading to the United Arab Emirates aboard the KC-330 aerial tanker at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on June 30, 2020, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Service members of South Korea’s Akh Unit pose for a photo before heading to the United Arab Emirates aboard the KC-330 aerial tanker at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on June 30, 2020, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


Read more

Yonhap – S. Korea, U.S. closely working for OPCON transfer: defense ministry

SEOUL, June 29 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States are closely coordinating for the planned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) of South Korean forces from Washington to Seoul, the defense ministry said Monday.

After holding a meeting presided over by Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo to review this year’s progress regarding the OPCON transfer, the ministry said the two countries have continued preparations to assess Seoul’s capabilities to retake OPCON and to maintain a firm readiness posture despite the postponement of their combined springtime exercise.

South Korea and the U.S. usually carry out major combined exercises twice a year to guarantee and further enhance their joint readiness posture. But this year’s springtime exercise was indefinitely put off due to the new coronavirus.

Despite the pandemic, the two sides have kept close communications to discuss pending issues through various channels, such as the Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD) and Special Permanent Military Committee (SPMC), it said.

During the meeting, the minister urged all forces to make “thorough preparations” for the OPCON transfer, stressing that the transition is key to improving the military’s defense capabilities, according to the ministry.

In order to verify whether Seoul is on course to meet the conditions for the transition, South Korea and the U.S. carried out an initial operational capability (IOC) test in August last year, and they are now planned to move on to the next step of carrying out the Full Operational Capability (FOC) test.

“South Korea and the U.S. are closely coordinating to carry out the FOC assessment test during an upcoming combined exercise with various circumstances, such as COVID-19, taken into consideration,” deputy ministry spokesperson Col. Moon Hong-sik said during a press briefing Monday.

The South handed over operational control of its troops to the U.S.-led U.N. command during the 1950-53 Korean War. It retook peacetime OPCON in 1994, but wartime OPCON remains in the hands of the U.S.

In this file photo, taken April 17, 2020, and released by the defense ministry, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (rear) speaks during a videoconference with top military commanders at the ministry in Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In this file photo, taken April 17, 2020, and released by the defense ministry, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (rear) speaks during a videoconference with top military commanders at the ministry in Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)



Read more