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MilitaryTimes – Growing North Korean nuclear threat awaits US election winner

WASHINGTON — “Where’s the war?” That’s how President Donald Trump defends his North Korea policy at campaign rallies even though he’s joined the list of U.S. presidents unable to stop the ever-growing nuclear threat from Kim Jong Un. That threat will transcend the November election, no matter who wins.

Despite Trump’s three meetings with Kim, the North Korean leader is expanding his arsenal. This month, Kim rolled out a shiny new, larger intercontinental ballistic missile during a nighttime parade in Pyongayng.

Arms experts said the missile could possibly fire multiple nuclear warheads at the United States. It serves as a reminder that despite Trump’s boasts, North Korea remains one of the biggest dangers to U.S. national security.

North Korea hasn’t been a major campaign issue, though it could surface in Thursday’s debate, which is supposed to include a national security segment. Democrat Joe Biden has blasted Trump’s chummy relationship with Kim, saying that, if elected, he would not meet the North Korean leader unless diplomats first draft a comprehensive agreement. Trump, meanwhile, predicts he can get a deal quickly if reelected, citing the dire conditions in North Korea.

North Korea on Saturday reiterated it has no immediate plans to resume nuclear negotiations with the United States unless Washington discards what it describes as “hostile” polices toward Pyongyang.

Talk of a quick deal is probably just talk because there’s no sign of significant contacts between Washington and Pyongyang, says Bruce Klingner, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former CIA Korea deputy chief. He and other North Korea watchers say they are bracing for Kim to showcase his military might again after the U.S. election.

“North Korea already has an ICBM that can range all over the United States, down to Florida and beyond, so the only reason to have an even larger missile is to be able to carry a larger payload,” Klingner said. He said it’s likely that North Korea will “do something strongly provocative early next year, regardless of who is elected president.”

This image made from video broadcast by North Korea's KRT, shows a military parade with what appears to be possible new intercontinental ballistic missile at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, Oct. 10, 2020. (KRT via AP)

This image made from video broadcast by North Korea’s KRT, shows a military parade with what appears to be possible new intercontinental ballistic missile at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, Oct. 10, 2020. (KRT via AP)

North Korea is continuing to produce nuclear material, according to a Congressional Research Service report. In addition, between May 2019 and late March 2020, North Korea conducted multiple short-range ballistic missile tests in violation of United Nations Security Council prohibitions.

Multiple diplomatic initiatives during both Democratic and Republican administrations have failed to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump dared to be different, opting for in-person meetings with Kim in Singapore, Hanoi and the Demilitarized Zone.

But despite the summits and exchanges of what Trump called “love” letters, his administration has been unable to get traction on denuclearizing North Korea. The last known working group meeting was last October.

Even so, Trump is still claiming victory, saying he’s kept the U.S. out of war with North Korea.

“Where’s the war?” he asked supporters last week in Greenville, North Carolina. He’s used the same line in other campaign speeches in battleground states.

“We have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un,” he said in Freeland, Michigan. “Who knows what likely happens? All I know is we’re not in war and that’s OK.”

Biden says that if he’s elected, he will inherit a North Korean challenge that is worse than when Trump took office.

“After three made-for-TV summits, we still don’t have a single concrete commitment from North Korea,” Biden said in a statement on North Korea. “Not one missile or nuclear weapon has been destroyed. Not one inspector is on the ground. If anything, the situation has gotten worse.”

He added: “North Korea has more capability today than when Trump began his ‘love affair’ with Kim Jong Un, a murderous tyrant who, thanks to Trump, is no longer an isolated pariah on the world stage.” Biden has pledged to work with allies to press Kim to denuclearize.

Biden’s advisers say the former vice president is not averse to sitting down with Kim, but not before a comprehensive negotiating strategy is outlined at working-level meetings by diplomats on both sides. The Biden campaign also criticizes Trump for scaling back military exercises with South Korea.

In this Oct. 2, 2019, file photo provided by the North Korean government, an underwater-launched missile lifts off in the waters off North Korea's eastern coastal town of Wonsan, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

In this Oct. 2, 2019, file photo provided by the North Korean government, an underwater-launched missile lifts off in the waters off North Korea’s eastern coastal town of Wonsan, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

North Korea typically fires off missiles or conducts tests in a show of force before key U.S. and South Korean elections. This time, experts predict, Kim will engage in saber-rattling after he knows who wins.

“Kim would like to deal with President Trump, rather than Biden,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former intelligence analyst specializing in East Asia who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said Kim does not want to make trouble for Trump by conducting a major provocation before the election. “In January,” she said. “That’s the time we need to watch out for it.”

If Biden wins, the North Koreans will want to engage with the new administration from a position of strength, according to Victor Cha, who negotiated with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration. If Trump wins, Cha thinks the president might want to move quickly to begin negotiations because he went “all in” on his man-to-man diplomacy with Kim and doesn’t want to accept personal defeat.

Some experts believe that instead of repeating diplomatic failures, the U.S. should recognize the reclusive nation as a nuclear weapons state and mitigate the threat through arms control treaties.

Biden’s vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, disagrees, saying the U.S. cannot accept North Korea as a nuclear power. But she also said, in written responses to questions posed by the Council on Foreign Relations, that demanding complete denuclearization is a “recipe for failure.”

She has pledged a tough approach to North Korea.

“I guarantee you I won’t be exchanging love letters with Kim Jong Un,” she wrote.


Article: https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/10/21/growing-north-korean-nuclear-threat-awaits-us-election-winner/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBB%2010.21.20&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

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Yonhap – S. Korean defense chief, U.S. commander vow strong cooperation for N.K. denuclearization

SEOUL, Oct. 20 (Yonhap) — Defense Minister Suh Wook and Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, discussed the security situation on the Korean Peninsula Tuesday and vowed a stronger combined readiness posture to support diplomacy to denuclearize North Korea, Seoul’s defense ministry said.

The U.S. commander arrived here Monday for a two-day visit as part of his trip to Asia.

South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook (L) and Adm. Phil Davidson (R), commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, hold talks in Seoul on Oct. 20, 2020, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

During the meeting in Seoul, Suh and Davidson “shared the importance of the command’s role for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a permanent peace, and agreed to maintain a strong combined defense posture to militarily support diplomatic efforts made jointly by the two nations,” according to the ministry.

North Korea is believed to have continued to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities amid stalled denuclearization talks with the U.S. During a massive military parade held earlier this month, the regime unveiled a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

The two sides also discussed regional security circumstances and a variety of alliance issues, the ministry noted.

Suh expressed gratitude for the command’s role in the repatriation of remains of South Korean troops killed during the 1950-53 Korean War from Hawaii in June.

Davidson said that South Korea’s response to the new coronavirus has greatly contributed to the stable stationing of the U.S. Forces Korea, according to the ministry.

Prior to the meeting with Suh, the U.S. commander met with Gen. Won In-choul, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and discussed key issues of mutual interest, it added.

Earlier in the day, Davidson also met with U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris and “talked about the U.S.-ROK alliance,” the ambassador tweeted. ROK is the acronym of South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

The commander is scheduled to leave for Japan later in the day before returning to Hawaii, according to officials.

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Yonhap – N.K. fast narrowing missile technology with S. Korea: defense development agency chief

By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, Oct. 20 (Yonhap) — North Korea is developing its missile capabilities at a pace much faster than expected, significantly narrowing the gap in weapons technology with South Korea, the chief of a state-run defense development agency said Tuesday.

Nam Sae-kyu, head of the Agency for Defense Development, made the remark during a parliamentary audit session, providing an analysis on the weapons the North unveiled in a recent military parade.

“I thought we were some 20 years ahead in terms of solid (propellant) ballistic missile or other missile systems, but after watching (the military parade), I thought the gap has more than halved,” the missile expert said.

On Oct. 10, North Korea held the parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party, showcasing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), along with other weapons.

“We have done a lot of analysis (on the weapons rolled out during the parade). I felt (North Korea’s weapons) are improving more practically compared to five years ago,” Nam said.

This photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency shows rocket launcher vehicles during a military parade held at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2020, to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the Workers' Party. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

This photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency shows rocket launcher vehicles during a military parade held at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2020, to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the Workers’ Party. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

On SLBMs, North Korea appears to have worked on securing better flying stability, the agency chief said, adding that the previous type seemed structurally better in terms of functions.

“North Korea could have changed its design due to problems in flying stability. If the North conducts a test in the near future, this aspect is likely to be tested first,” he said.

Asked if the North might have made a rapid progress on its missile program by hacking confidential military information from other countries, Nam doubted the possibility, saying the two Koreas’ missile systems are “conceptually different” to believe that the North’s missiles were developed based on the South’s technology.

“When we look at their weapons systems, we do see some parts that have been copied from here and there, but as their weapons are conceptually different from ours, I don’t think they have hacked information from us,” Nam said.

The communist country is believed to be continuing efforts to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

The North has also been working to modernize its conventional weapons system, including short-range ballistic missiles that can target South Korea.

Despite North Korea’s recent progress, Nam said South Korea’s ballistic missile technology is still “way ahead,” adding that the military is capable of intercepting the North’s newly developed short-range missiles.

scaaet@yna.co.kr
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Article: https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201020005851325?section=national/defense

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Yonhap – USFK to ease coronavirus restrictions in greater Seoul area

SEOUL, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) — U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Friday that it will ease anti-coronavirus restrictions for its personnel in the greater Seoul area in step with the South Korean government’s recent lowering of its social distancing level following drops in new cases.

Last month, the U.S. military lowered the Health Protection Condition (HPCON) level by one notch to the second-lowest level of “Bravo” from “Charlie,” except for Area II defined as the greater Seoul area, including the western city of Incheon.

The B level will be applied across the peninsula, including the capital area, starting at 4 p.m., Monday, which means all USFK members will be allowed to dine at restaurants and conduct off-base activities.

USFK has a five-scale warning system, which ranges from HPCON A to B, C, C+ and D.

The decision was made “based on the continued low numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases within the greater Seoul metropolitan area, and the South Korean government lowering their social distancing to level 1,” USFK said in a statement.

South Korea began implementing the Level 1 social distancing guideline on Monday following a slowdown in new cases in recent weeks. Level 1 allows 10 types of “high-risk” facilities to reopen, such as bars, karaoke rooms, large cram schools and buffet restaurants.

But USFK decided to continue to ban its personnel from visiting clubs, bars and adult-only establishments across the country until further notice.

“The continued hard-work and diligence of the ROK government, KDCA and local communities to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus has been remarkable,” USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said.

“The threat of COVID-19 still exists. Our community has been a vital role in preventing the spread of the virus, and we must remain vigilant in maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask when out in the local community,” he added.

USFK reported 227 coronavirus infections among its population as of Thursday, most of whom tested positive upon their arrival here from the U.S.

South Korea reported 47 new virus cases Friday, raising the total caseload to 25,035.

Fans sit apart and cheer while watching a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game between the Hanwha Eagles and the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, on Oct. 13, 2020. The government eased social distancing rules over the coronavirus, allowing sports leagues to admit crowds of up to 30 percent of stadium capacities. (Yonhap)

Fans sit apart and cheer while watching a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game between the Hanwha Eagles and the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, on Oct. 13, 2020. The government eased social distancing rules over the coronavirus, allowing sports leagues to admit crowds of up to 30 percent of stadium capacities. (Yonhap)

This image captured from the U.S. Forces Korea's website on Sept. 23, 2020, shows its classification of areas in South Korea. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This image captured from the U.S. Forces Korea’s website on Sept. 23, 2020, shows its classification of areas in South Korea. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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Yonhap -USFK informs S. Korean employees of potential furlough

SEOUL, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) — U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Friday it has informed its South Korean employees of a potential furlough amid little progress in negotiations between Seoul and Washington over how to share the burden for the upkeep of American troops stationed here.

On Oct. 5, USFK sent the notice to its Korean Employees Union and Seoul’s labor ministry about a furlough that could possibly occur in April next year in case the two allies fail to reach an agreement on their defense cost-sharing deal, it said.

The notice came less than four months after thousands of South Korean employees for USFK returned to work following months of unpaid leave as the two sides failed to reach a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that stipulates how much Seoul should pay for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong USFK.

More than 4,000 South Korean workers had been on the furlough from April to June until the U.S. accepted South Korea’s proposal to fund the labor costs for all USFK Korean workers through the end of the year.

“While USFK is not an official member of SMA negotiations, we are keenly interested in the outcome and remain hopeful for a swift conclusion to mitigate a labor funding deficit for the nearly 9,000 members of the USFK Korean National workforce,” it said in a statement.

During a recent meeting in Washington, Defense Minister Suh Wook and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper agreed on a need to quickly conclude their stalled negotiations over the defense-cost sharing deal.

Yet their joint communique lacked the U.S. vow to “maintain the current force level of USFK in order to defend” South Korea in an apparent move to pressure Seoul to pay more. The expression had been usually included in the joint statements released after the annual talks between the defense chiefs of the two countries.

Defense Minister Suh Wook (L) bumps fists with U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams at the inauguration ceremony of new Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Won In-choul at the JCS headquarters in Seoul on Sept. 23, 2020. (Yonhap)

Defense Minister Suh Wook (L) bumps fists with U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams at the inauguration ceremony of new Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Won In-choul at the JCS headquarters in Seoul on Sept. 23, 2020. (Yonhap)

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Article: https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201016002200325?section=national/defense

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Chosun – Korea, U.S. Clash over Defense Cost-Sharing

By Kim Jin-myung, Kim Eun-joong, Ahn Jun-yong | October 16, 2020 09:51

The defense chiefs of South Korea and the U.S. on Wednesday clashed over key issues like sharing the cost of maintaining 28,500 American troops in Korea.

Their joint statement at the end of their talks did not include the phrase “maintain the current level of the U.S. military personnel” in Korea, and a scheduled joint press conference of Defense Minister Suh Wook and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was canceled at the last minute.

Discord is also becoming more evident on issues like U.S. pressure on Korea to join the anti-Chinese Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “Quad” which includes Australia, India and Japan.

Esper said, “I hope we will all agree on the necessity of reaching [a cost-sharing deal] as soon as possible to ensure the stable stationing of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula.”

Defense Minister Suh Wook (right) and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrive at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump is demanding a massive hike in Seoul’s share of the troops’ upkeep, and Washington upped the pressure by demanding for the first time in 12 years the omission of the phrase “maintain the current level of the U.S. military personnel” in Korea.

But Seoul now seems determined to sit out Trump, whose chances of re-election next month are fading, and unwilling to present him with a diplomatic victory that could help him stay president. This in turn has peeved Washington, which is now reluctant to help President Moon Jae-in meet one of his election promises before his five-year term is up.

Regarding the handover of full operational control of Korean troops to Seoul before Moon’s term ends in 2022, Esper said, “Fully meeting all the conditions for the transition of operational control to a [Korean] commander will take time, but the process of doing so will strengthen our alliance.”

National Security Adviser Suh Hoon (right) and his U.S. counterpart Robert O’Brien pose for a photo at the White House in Washington on Wednesday, in this grab from the U.S. National Security Council’s Twitter account.

Meanwhile, Cheong Wa Dae’s national security adviser Suh Hoon met his U.S. counterpart Robert O’Brien in Washington and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. A Cheong Wa Dae official said Suh’s visit comes at the invitation of the U.S. and the purpose is to “discuss key alliance issues.”

It is unclear why there would be any urgency since Trump is concentrating all his efforts of his re-election campaign. The real purpose of his sudden visit was apparently to try and hammer out the sticking points between the two defense chiefs.

Cheong Wa Dae kept Suh Hoon’s visit under wraps until Washington announced it.

One former vice foreign minister here said, “The current administration tends to wrap itself in too much secrecy when it comes to visits by government officials because the bilateral alliance is not what it used to be, but this only gives the impression that it lacks diplomatic confidence.”

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THE DONG-A ILBO – ROK-US alliance must be top priority for Korean diplomacy

“The burden shouldn’t fall unequally on American taxpayers. We will reach a Special Measures Agreement as soon as possible for the stable stationing of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula,” said U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in the opening speech at the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. His remarks hint at the possibility of pegging the matter of reducing U.S. forces in Korea to the results of burden-sharing agreement. Unlike last year, the phrase of “maintaining the current level of the U.S. military personnel in the ROK” is missing in the joint communiqué.

This year’s SCM saw a slew of differences of opinion between the two sides. While Seoul argues that there was no discussion on the size of U.S. forces in Korea, there are certainly some signs that Washington is willing to use the reduction of USFK as leverage to pressure Seoul to pony up more money. Replacing the vow to “maintain the current level of U.S. military personnel” is a new phrase noting “the current lack of a Special Measures Agreement (SMA) could have lasting effects for Alliance readiness.”

Transition of wartime operational control was another area of cacophony. Korean Defense Minister Seo Wook called for the early arrangements of transition conditions, but Secretary Esper said it would take some time to meet the conditions. This year’s joint communiqué states that the “conditions must be fully met” before the wartime OPCON is transitioned.

A spokesperson of the U.S. Department of Defense said deciding a specific timeline for transition could “jeopardize the people and the soldiers” of the two nations. It was a clear rejection for the Korean government, which wants an early transition of operational control.

It had been predicted that the differences of opinion about the terms of burden sharing or OPCON would eventually prompt an outright withdrawal or reduction of the U.S. forces in South Korea. Indeed, it didn’t make much sense for Korean military to expect to get back the wartime operational control when the basic conditions for stable stationing and training are ill-prepared. Furthermore, in the mind of U.S. President Donald Trump, the agendas of USFK and burden-sharing deal are strategically intertwined with the nuclear talks with the North.

The U.S. presidential election is only less than 20 days away. An instant agreement or a dramatic solution won’t be achieved overnight. Now is the time to concentrate our diplomatic resources to iron out any differences with Washington and prevent the uncertainties of American politics aggravating the friction the two allies are experiencing at the moment. Seoul must not forget the fact that ROK-US alliance remains top priority regardless of the results of the November presidential election.

klimt@donga.com

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Yonhap – Defense chiefs of S. Korea, U.S. reaffirm efforts for OPCON transfer

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) — The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States on Wednesday reaffirmed their efforts to transfer wartime operational control (OPCON) of South Korean troops back to South Korea.

South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook and his U.S. counterpart, Mark Esper, also vowed efforts to further develop the countries’ alliance and denuclearize North Korea, according to a joint statement issued at the end of their annual talks, called the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).

“The Secretary and the Minister acknowledged that great progress had been made toward meeting the conditions for wartime OPCON transition through U.S.-ROK joint efforts,” said the joint communique. ROK stands for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks at the start of annual defense talks with his South Korean counterpart, known as the Security Consultative Meeting, at the Pentagon on Oct. 14, 2020. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks at the start of annual defense talks with his South Korean counterpart, known as the Security Consultative Meeting, at the Pentagon on Oct. 14, 2020. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

Suh said his country will continue to acquire the capabilities necessary to meet the requirements set by the countries’ conditions-based transfer plans signed in 2015 and 2018, according to the statement.

Esper reaffirmed his country’s commitment to providing the necessary supplements to Seoul’s control and defense capabilities.

The U.S. defense secretary earlier said the transition may require more time.

“Fully meeting all the conditions for the transition of operational control to a ROK commander will take time, but the process of doing so will strengthen our alliance,” Esper said in his opening remarks.

South Korea is seeking to retake the wartime OPCON before the incumbent Moon Jae-in administration’s five-year term ends in May 2022.South Korea regained peacetime OPCON in 1994.

South Korea and the United States mark the 70th anniversary of signing their bilateral military alliance this year. Wednesday’s SCM marked the 52nd of its kind.

“The Secretary and the Minister assessed that the U.S.-ROK Alliance is strong and reaffirmed the two nations’ mutual commitment to a combined defense as agreed in the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the ROK,” the joint statement said.

“Both sides pledged to continue to develop the Alliance — the linchpin of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia — in a mutually reinforcing and future-oriented manner,” it added.

Suh and Esper agreed on the need to quickly conclude the countries’ stalled negotiations to set South Korea’s share in the cost of maintaining some 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula.

“The Secretary offered his appreciation for the ROK’s contributions toward ensuring a stable stationing environment for U.S. forces in Korea while emphasizing the importance of defense cost-sharing,” the statement said.

Seoul and Washington have held several rounds of negotiations for the so-called Special Measures Agreement (SMA) since late last year, but the talks currently remain deadlocked.

South Korea has offered to increase its annual share by up to 13 percent from the US$870 million paid under last year’s agreement, but the U.S. is said to be demanding a 50 percent hike to $1.3 billion while U.S. President Donald Trump is reported to have initially demanded $5 billion per year from Seoul.

Trump is also said to have instructed U.S. negotiators to use a possible withdrawal of U.S. forces in Korea as a bargaining chip.

The U.S. defense secretary earlier called for a more “equitable” agreement.

“I know we will have an open and candid discussion on this front. And I hope we will all agree on the necessity of reaching a Special Measures Agreement as soon as possible to ensure the stable stationing of U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula,” Esper said at the start of Wednesday’s meeting.

“The two sides concurred in the necessity of expeditiously resolving the SMA negotiations, in a fair, equitable, and mutually agreeable manner, particularly in light of the impact of the lapse on the ROK-U.S. Alliance,” the released statement said.

The two defense chiefs reaffirmed their joint efforts to denuclearize North Korea, noting the communist state’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs continue to pose serious threats to international security.

“In recognition of the significant threat that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose to international security, both sides reaffirmed the need for close coordination and cooperation to establish a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as well as dismantlement of its ballistic missile program,” said the statement, referring to North Korea by its official name.

The call came days after the communist state unveiled a new intercontinental ballistic missile at a military parade over the weekend that many believe may reach most of U.S. mainland.

Trump and Kim have held two more meetings since their Singapore summit in June 2018, but their talks have stalled since their second summit, held in Hanoi in February 2019, ended without a deal.

Suh and Esper underlined the importance of the countries’ joint military exercises to ensure their defense readiness.

“The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed the need to continue to conduct combined exercises and training events on the Peninsula to strengthen Alliance readiness,” said the statement.

“The two leaders also emphasized that continuous training opportunities for USFK are critical to maintaining a strong combined defense posture,” it added.

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Yonhap – Esper says OPCON transfer will take time

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) — The United States is committed to the envisioned transition of the wartime operational control (OPCON) of South Korean forces back to Seoul, but it will take time to meet the required conditions, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday.

Esper made the remark at the start of annual defense talks with his South Korean counterpart, Suh Wook, amid growing speculation that the OPCON transfer is unlikely to be completed before the term of President Moon Jae-in ends in May 2022.

“Fully meeting all the conditions for the transition of operational control to a ROK commander will take time, but the process of doing so will strengthen our alliance,” Esper said at the start of the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).

In a joint communique, however, the two sides noted that “great progress” has been made.

“The Secretary and the Minister acknowledged that great progress had been made toward meeting the conditions for wartime OPCON transition through U.S.-ROK joint efforts,” said a joint communique released after the SCM. ROK stands for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

Esper and Suh had been scheduled to hold a joint news conference after the talks, but the U.S. called it off at the last minute, officials said. That raised speculation that it could be because of wide differences between the two sides on pending issues like the OPCON transfer.

South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook (2nd from L) and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper (2nd from R) hold the annual defense ministerial talks, known as the Security Consultative Meeting, at the Pentagon on Oct. 14, 2020. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook (2nd from L) and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper (2nd from R) hold the annual defense ministerial talks, known as the Security Consultative Meeting, at the Pentagon on Oct. 14, 2020. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

South Korea is seeking to retake the wartime OPCON before Moon leaves office. The country retook its peacetime OPCON in 1994.

Under the so-called Conditions-based OPCON Transition Plans, signed in 2015 and 2018, Seoul and Washington first need to identify and reinforce South Korea’s command capabilities to control its troops in the event of a war.

Their efforts, however, have been delayed partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic but also because of the cancellation or reduction of their joint military exercises, a concession made by U.S. President Donald Trump to North Korea.

Esper reaffirmed his country’s commitment to providing the necessary supplements to Seoul’s command capabilities but said they will first have to identify what capabilities Seoul requires.

“The Secretary committed to the provision of bridging capabilities but noted the need first to understand ROK acquisition plans in order to determine what specific capabilities are needed, and for how long,” the joint communique said.

Suh said his country will continue to acquire all necessary capabilities.

“The Minister noted that the ROK will acquire, develop, and provide these capabilities, and committed to more robust discussions on ROK acquisition planning,” the statement said.

The two sides also “assessed that the U.S.-ROK Alliance is strong and reaffirmed the two nations’ mutual commitment to a combined defense as agreed in the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the ROK.”

South Korea and the United States signed a mutual defense treaty in 1953.

“Both sides pledged to continue to develop the Alliance — the linchpin of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia — in a mutually reinforcing and future-oriented manner,” it added.

Suh and Esper agreed on the need to quickly conclude the countries’ stalled negotiations to set South Korea’s share in the cost of maintaining some 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula.

“The Secretary offered his appreciation for the ROK’s contributions toward ensuring a stable stationing environment for U.S. forces in Korea while emphasizing the importance of defense cost-sharing,” the statement said.

Seoul and Washington have held several rounds of negotiations for the so-called Special Measures Agreement (SMA) since late last year, but the talks currently remain deadlocked.

South Korea has offered to increase its annual share by up to 13 percent from the US$870 million paid under last year’s agreement, but the U.S. is said to be demanding a 50 percent hike to $1.3 billion while U.S. President Donald Trump is reported to have initially demanded $5 billion per year from Seoul.

Trump is also said to have instructed U.S. negotiators to use a possible withdrawal of U.S. forces in Korea as a bargaining chip.

The U.S. defense secretary earlier called for a more “equitable” agreement.

“I know we will have an open and candid discussion on this front. And I hope we will all agree on the necessity of reaching a Special Measures Agreement as soon as possible to ensure the stable stationing of U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula,” Esper said at the start of Wednesday’s meeting.

“The two sides concurred in the necessity of expeditiously resolving the SMA negotiations, in a fair, equitable, and mutually agreeable manner, particularly in light of the impact of the lapse on the ROK-U.S. Alliance,” the released statement said.

Unlike past statements, however, the joint communique from the latest SCM did not mention the U.S.’ commitment to maintaining its troop levels in South Korea.

A South Korean official later explained it did not mean a possible reduction.

“It does not mean anything significant,” the official told reporters, noting the defense chiefs instead reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining the alliance’s joint defense readiness as seen in their joint communique.

The two defense chiefs also reaffirmed their joint efforts to denuclearize North Korea, noting the communist state’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs continue to pose serious threats to international security.

“In recognition of the significant threat that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose to international security, both sides reaffirmed the need for close coordination and cooperation to establish a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as well as dismantlement of its ballistic missile program,” said the statement, referring to North Korea by its official name.

The call came days after the communist state unveiled a new intercontinental ballistic missile at a military parade over the weekend that many believe may reach most of U.S. mainland.

Trump and Kim have held two more meetings since their Singapore summit in June 2018, but their talks have stalled since their second summit, held in Hanoi in February 2019, ended without a deal.

Suh and Esper underlined the importance of the countries’ joint military exercises to ensure their defense readiness.

“The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed the need to continue to conduct combined exercises and training events on the Peninsula to strengthen Alliance readiness,” said the statement.

“The two leaders also emphasized that continuous training opportunities for USFK are critical to maintaining a strong combined defense posture,” it added.

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Yonhap – U.S. unit arrives in S. Korea for rotational deployment

SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) — Soldiers and equipment of a U.S. armored brigade combat team have started to arrive in South Korea for a rotational deployment, the U.S. military said Thursday.

Tracked vehicles and other equipment of the Raider Brigade, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, began arriving in the southeastern city of Busan from Fort Stewart, Georgia, according to the Eighth Army.

The arriving brigade is replacing the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division on a nine-month mission to support the 2nd Infantry Division, South Korea-U.S. Combined Division and the Eighth Army, it said.

“The introduction of off-peninsula units to the Korean Theater of Operations exposes more U.S. Soldiers to the operating environment in the Republic of Korea, the region, expands and enhances the partnership between the two Armies and supports the ironclad ROK-US Alliance,” it said in a release.

All soldiers upon arrival will be tested for the new coronavirus and put into 14-day mandatory quarantine.

The Raider Brigade is the ninth rotational armored brigade to serve in South Korea.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula still technically at war.

In this photo, provided by the U.S. Eighth Army on Oct. 15, 2020, U.S. military vehicles arrive in the southeastern port city of Busan. Troops and equipment of an American armored brigade combat team are coming to South Korea for a rotational deployment. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In this photo, provided by the U.S. Eighth Army on Oct. 15, 2020, U.S. military vehicles arrive in the southeastern port city of Busan. Troops and equipment of an American armored brigade combat team are coming to South Korea for a rotational deployment. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

scaaet@yna.co.kr

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Article: https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201015009200325?section=national/defense

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