SEOUL, May 13 (Yonhap) — Outgoing U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said Thursday that a “rock solid” combined defense posture between South Korea and the United States is the “single greatest deterrent” against any potential adversaries, including North Korea.
Abrams made the remark at a farewell event in Seoul, saying the U.S. will continue to work with its allies “to address the threats posed by North Korea through diplomacy and credible deterrence.”
“Any potential adversary should never, ever underestimate our resolve and commitment to defend the Republic of Korea,” the general said, referring to South Korea by its official name.
The remarks came as denuclearization negotiations between the U.S. and the North remain stalled since the collapse of the Hanoi summit in 2019.
The new U.S. Joe Biden administration recently concluded its policy review on Pyongyang and offered to resume dialogue, but North Korea has shown no visible reaction to the proposal. The North earlier said it will ignore the U.S.’ overtures until Washington gives up what it calls a hostile policy against the regime, warning of a “crisis beyond control.”
“As long as North Korea poses a significant threat, we are duty bound to keep our combined defense posture ready, credible and strong,” Abrams said. “Expert readiness and rock solid combined defense posture remains the single greatest deterrent for any potential aggression against the Republic of Korea.”
Abrams, who is also at the helm of the U.N. Command and the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, took office in November 2018.
In December, then U.S. President Donald Trump nominated Army Pacific Commander Gen. Paul LaCamera to succeed Abrams to lead the 28,500 American troops in South Korea. The nomination is now pending at the Senate Armed Services Committee for a confirmation hearing.
At Thursday’s event, Abrams received a Korean name, Woo Byung-soo, as a gift from a South Korea-U.S. friendship group for his “contribution to the alliance and defense of South Korea.”
“Serving as the Commander of the United Nations Command, the Combined Forces Command and the U.S. Forces Korea over the last 2 1/2 years has been a professional honor of my life,” he said.
Expressing gratitude for “a lifetime of memories” in South Korea, Abrams said, “I am going to have to find a place in North Carolina that makes good kimchi,” a traditional Korean side dish normally made of fermented cabbage, salt and hot peppers.
Outgoing U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams (L) receives a Korean name, Woo Byung-soo, as a gift from a South Korea-U.S. friendship group for his “contribution to the alliance and defense of South Korea” during a farewell event in Seoul on May 13, 2021. (Yonhap)
SEOUL, May 13 (Yonhap) — U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas on Thursday to take a first-hand look at the heavily fortified border, as Washington seeks to round out its policy on North Korea.
Haines arrived here Wednesday after holding a trilateral meeting with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts — Park Jie-won and Hiroaki Takizawa — in Tokyo apparently with cooperation on the North’s denuclearization topping their shared agenda.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines walks out of a hotel in Seoul on May 13, 2021. (Yonhap)
It remains unknown which part of the DMZ she would visit, but the top intelligence official was expected to take a brief tour of the Joint Security Area in the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom, among other areas.
Later in the day, Haines visited the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Seoul and met with agency chief Maj. Gen. Lee Young-choul to discuss ways to boost cooperation between the two sides in sharing intelligence on North Korea, according to sources.
DIA, under the wing of the defense ministry, is in charge of collecting and analyzing military intelligence on combat and non-combat military missions.
During her stay in Seoul, Haines could also pay a courtesy call on President Moon Jae-in and meet with Moon’s national security adviser, Suh Hoon, as the two countries prepare for the first in-person summit between Moon and U.S. President Joe Biden slated to take place in Washington on May 21.
In talks with Seoul officials, Haines is likely to discuss Washington’s policy on dealing with Pyongyang, which U.S. officials have cast as a “calibrated, practical” approach toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
While in Seoul, Haines could also explore ways to encourage South Korea and Japan to move past their historical grievances and jointly focus on shared challenges from a recalcitrant North Korea and an assertive China.
SEOUL, May 7 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States will hold biannual defense talks next week in Washington to discuss regional security situations and the transition of the wartime operational control (OPCON), the defense ministry said Friday.
The 19th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD) will take place Wednesday through Thursday, and Deputy Defense Minister Kim Man-ki and David Helvey, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs, will represent their countries, according to the ministry.
“The two sides are scheduled to discuss major pending security issues, such as the assessment of the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and the policy coordination on North Korea,” the ministry said in a release.
The meeting comes as Washington completed a review of its policy on the North and said it would seek a “calibrated, practical” approach to achieve the goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea has been ramping up rhetoric against the U.S. and South Korea, while rejecting dialogue offers.
Also on the table during the meeting will be the conditions-based OPCON transition, and the development of the mutually beneficial alliance, according to the ministry.
The two sides are working for the transition of the wartime operational control of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul. Seoul seeks to achieve the goal at an early date, though no specific timeframe has been set and there have been delays in due procedures for the transfer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Launched in 2011, KIDD is a comprehensive defense meeting between Seoul and Washington that integrates a set of consultative mechanisms, such as the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee and the Security Policy Initiative. The forum usually meets twice a year.
This photo, provided by the defense ministry, shows Deputy Defense Minister Chung Suk-hwan (C) during the biannual 18th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD) that the two countries held via videoconferencing on Sept. 9 and Sept. 11, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
SEOUL, May 6 (Yonhap) — Defense Minister Suh Wook vowed Thursday to actively push for the transition of the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its forces from the United States based upon a staunch combined readiness posture and alliance.
“Our military strives to bring the Korea-U.S. alliance a notch higher under the Joe Biden administration. While maintaining an ironclad combined readiness posture, we are pushing for the conditions-based OPCON transfer in a substantial manner,” Suh said during an inaugural seminar of the Global Defense Research Forum (GDRF).
Seoul seeks to achieve the goal at an early date, though no specific timeframe has been set and there have been delays in due procedures for the transfer amid COVID-19. Seoul and Washington initially eyed around 2022 as a target date.
Pointing to “fast-changing security circumstances” on and around the Korean Peninsula, Suh stressed his commitment to the strong defense posture based upon the alliance so as to “proactively respond to security threats from all sides.”
He also pledged to work more closely with global partners in the face of growing transnational and nontraditional threats, such as the new coronavirus and climate change.
Defense Minister Suh Wook delivers a speech during a seminar organized by the Global Defense Research Forum held in Seoul on May 6, 2021. (Yonhap)
WASHINGTON, May 3 (Yonhap) — The new U.S. policy toward North Korea does not affect the United States’ alliance with South Korea or its defense commitment on the Korean Peninsula, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.
John Kirby made the remark when asked if the outcome of the recently concluded North Korea policy review may affect the U.S. defense posture on the Korean Peninsula.
“We also have concomitant alliance requirements on the peninsula with our South Korean allies to continue to make sure we are, as the saying goes, ‘ready to fight tonight,’ and so that work continues,” he said, referring to the slogan of the South Korean and U.S. Combined Forces Command.
“I mean…from the Department of Defense perspective, one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to the treaty alliance with South Korea,” he added in a department press briefing.
The image captured from the website of the U.S. Department of Defense shows spokesman John Kirby answering questions in a press briefing in Washington on May 3, 2021. (Yonhap)
On Friday, the White House said the United States will seek “calibrated” and diplomatic ways to make practical progress toward the denuclearization of North Korea, announcing the conclusion of its North Korea policy review that began soon after Joe Biden took office as president on Jan. 20.
In addition to the North Korea policy review, the U.S. is also undertaking a global defense posture review, which has yet to be completed.
Kirby said the U.S. military will support the new U.S. approach to dealing with nuclear-armed North Korea.
“As I said, whatever the outreach looks like to help with denuclearization of North Korea, the (defense) department will support that,” he said.
The U.S. earlier said it has sought to engage with North Korea since mid-February but that Pyongyang remained unresponsive.
On Sunday (Seoul time), the North warned the U.S. will face “worse and worse crisis” down the road, accusing Biden of making a “big blunder” against its leader, Kim Jong-un, in his recent address to Congress, where he vowed to work with U.S. allies to denuclearize the North through “diplomacy, as well as deterrence.”
“We stand in support of the State Department as they pursue peaceful, political, diplomatic options to make the region safer and more secure, and that includes making it safer and more secure from the threat that North Korea continues to pose,” said Kirby.
The U.S. currently maintains some 28,500 troops on the Korean Peninsula.
38 North recently interviewed Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker, renowned expert on North Korea’s nuclear program and a senior fellow emeritus at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, about the status of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment production and implications for the North’s nuclear arsenal. Below are excerpts from that interview.
38 North: Recent assessments of North Korea’s nuclear program estimate that they may have up to 90 nuclear weapons. What do you make of this estimate?
Siegfried Hecker: That’s much too high. I think 20 to 60 is possible, with the most likely number being 45. These numbers are based on estimates of how much fissile material—that is, plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) bomb fuel—North Korea has produced. In other words, it may have enough fissile material for 45 nuclear weapons, but that does not necessarily mean it has produced that many at this time.
Plutonium production can be estimated quite accurately. It is produced in the North’s 5 Megawatt-electric (5 MWe) nuclear reactor, and satellite imagery allows us to monitor when the reactor is operating. Prior to 2008, the best signature was a plume emanating from the reactor’s cooling tower. The North blew up the cooling tower as a political goodwill gesture in June 2008. When the reactor was restarted in August 2013, they decided not to rebuild the cooling tower but rather go to the river for cooling—essentially creating a heat exchange mechanism using river water. Now, reactor operation is more difficult, but not impossible, to monitor.
My current estimate is that North Korea has a plutonium inventory in the range of 25 to 48 kilograms. Based on what we have learned about reactor characteristics, including from my visits to the Yongbyon nuclear complex, North Korea can produce at most six kilograms per year at full operation. My inventory estimate is based on production estimates, production losses and estimates of amounts expended in nuclear tests.
What do you think about recent reports that North Korea is reprocessing plutonium now, perhaps as a strategic political move to ratchet up pressure on the Biden administration?
SH: Once plutonium is produced during reactor operations, it must be chemically separated (that is, reprocessed) from the rest of the reactor fuel products—what is called spent fuel. Satellite imagery has shown signs of operations in the Yongbyon reprocessing facility during the past couple of months. That means plutonium is either being separated from the spent fuel generated during the last reactor run, or the North is treating the nuclear waste from the last reprocessing campaign. At this point, we don’t know which it is. The more important point, however, is that we believe the reactor has not operated since at least December 2018. Therefore, if plutonium is being separated, it is from the previous reactor run—that is, it’s old, not newly generated plutonium.
Whichever the case may be, none of this is done for political reasons. These are strictly technical decisions. The reactor has not operated for over two years because we believe they are having problems with the cooling system. If they have waited to reprocess the plutonium produced before 2018, it is because they have additional technical problems. If they can overcome the technical issues, they will surely produce more plutonium, separate more into weapons-grade bomb fuel and also make more tritium for hydrogen bombs unless Washington reaches some diplomatic agreement to prevent that.
How about monitoring uranium enrichment activity? How accurately can that be assessed?
SH: Uranium enrichment operations are very difficult to estimate because the centrifuge facility signatures are so small. The North Koreans showed our Stanford delegation—John Lewis, Robert Carlin and me—the centrifuge facility at Yongbyon during our trip in 2010. It’s the only enrichment facility they have declared. That building housed 2,000 centrifuges at the time. The size of the building was doubled by 2013, so we assume they have had 4,000 centrifuges spinning since. And, by the way, centrifuges pretty much operate 24/7.
Based on what we saw at Yongbyon and on our previous visits there, we were convinced that North Korea had at least one other centrifuge facility outside of Yongbyon. We don’t know how large it is or where it is located. I am not convinced that open-source reports suggesting such a facility exists at Kangson, just outside Pyongyang, are correct. However, the other facility (or facilities) must have been large enough to provide sufficient operational experience for the North Koreans to construct the centrifuge hall at Yongbyon by 2010.
It is difficult to estimate the total enrichment capacity because we don’t know how large the other one or possibly two facilities are. That said, our team at Stanford developed a probabilistic analysis based on the likelihood of Pyongyang’s ability to procure key centrifuge materials from outside sources or produce them domestically. We estimated that North Korea’s capacity to produce HEU for bomb fuel is on the order of 175 kg per year. Based on these assumptions, our estimate is that North Korea likely has around 600 to 950 kg of HEU as of the end of 2020.
Let me stress, however, that all estimates of uranium enrichment capacity in North Korea are highly uncertain. The best way to reduce the uncertainty is for US or International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to get back into Yongbyon to see the operations. No other outsiders have seen the centrifuge facility, and no one has been there since our team’s visit in 2010. Unfortunately, the two previous US administrations have missed opportunities to get back in.
How many bombs can North Korea make with those inventories of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and can they make hydrogen bombs?
SH: The plutonium bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in August 1945 used around six kilograms. The Hiroshima bomb used HEU, but it was of a primitive design. How much plutonium or HEU the North Koreans need for a bomb depends on how good their scientists are and what kind of bomb they want to build. A reasonable estimate is five kilograms for plutonium bombs and 25 kilograms for HEU bombs. Using the plutonium and HEU inventories I mentioned leads me to believe the most likely number of bombs is 45. The recent estimates in a RAND/Asan Institute report of 67 to 116 today and 151 to 242 by 2027 are much too high. They estimate that North Korea has the capacity to add 12 to 18 bombs per year; ours is closer to six.
As for hydrogen bombs, these need fusion fuels, namely the heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium. Deuterium is easy to produce. Tritium has to be produced in reactors. Looking at the North’s reactor operations over the years, I believe they have produced small amounts of tritium, perhaps enough for a few hydrogen bombs. The real question, of course, is, do they know how to design and build a hydrogen bomb? We are not certain, but the sixth nuclear test was large enough to have been a hydrogen bomb. It likely used a plutonium fission device to drive the fusion reaction. Since the production of plutonium and tritium requires reactors, it is very important to stop reactor operations in Yongbyon permanently.
You mentioned that North Korea likely has at least one enrichment facility outside of Yongbyon. Does your estimate include that potential production capability?
SH: Yes, our probabilistic model estimates North Korea’s total enrichment capacity regardless of where it’s located. The facilities outside of Yongbyon could possibly produce HEU by themselves or be operated in tandem with those in Yongbyon. I believe it is quite likely that the Yongbyon centrifuge facility produces low-enriched uranium (LEU) at 3.5 percent uranium-235, as the North Koreans told me—and they can make a lot of that. The LEU would then be sent to another facility to step up the uranium-235 content in stages: first to 20 percent, then 60 percent, and finally to the 90 percent HEU level.
It would make sense for the North Koreans to structure their enrichment program like that—use the plant at Yongbyon to make LEU and then send it off someplace else to make HEU. It seems likely then that they have at least one, maybe two other enrichment facilities, but they aren’t all doing the same thing. This makes it difficult to estimate how much of their enrichment capacity is outside Yongbyon. My guess is that it’s roughly half.
Let me stress again, however, that all of the plutonium and tritium production capacity is at Yongbyon.
Does the country’s enriched uranium all go towards its weapons program? Would there be other potential uses of the LEU produced at Yongbyon, such as for fuel fabrication for the nuclear reactors?
SH: Yes, indeed. The Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) under construction requires LEU fuel in contrast to the natural uranium used in the 5 MWe Reactor. In fact, Pyongyang’s first admission of having a centrifuge program (which was not until 2009) was that they needed it to produce fuel for their new ELWR. The initial 2,000-centrifuge plant they showed us was capable of producing enough LEU to fuel the ELWR for continuous operation. I was told it would require four tons of LEU uranium oxide fuel. The initial centrifuge plant could have produced that much LEU in two years. The expanded plant can do it in one year. They have had plenty of time to produce sufficient LEU fuel for the reactor since it is taking much longer than anticipated to start up.
Speaking of the ELWR, do you think the North Koreans will ever get that running? Assuming they do, wouldn’t that mean less LEU for the weapons program? And, is it possible to make plutonium in the ELWR?
SH: I believe the North Koreans are determined to get the ELWR running. We have seen continued activity at the site, but they have yet to start operations. We have to keep in mind that light water reactors (LWRs) are a new technology for them. Almost every aspect of LWR operations and the safety requirements are more demanding than those for the gas-graphite reactor with which they have experience. They continue to struggle with the cooling systems for both reactors, especially given the unreliable water supply from the Kuryong River, which runs alongside the Yongbyon complex. In addition, both the fuel and the cladding for an LWR are different from that used in their gas-graphite reactor. It could be a whole host of issues that are delaying start-up, but they are a very determined people and will eventually get there.
As to how reactor requirements for LEU will affect the amount of enriched uranium available for the weapons program, I think they’ll be able to manage both. One of the unfortunate aspects of the nuclear business is that it takes much less uranium to build bombs than it does to fuel a reactor to make electricity. Until they build much bigger LWRs, they have most of their centrifuge capacity available to produce HEU bomb fuel.
I believe North Korea was serious about nuclear electricity. The ELWR was going to be their pilot project for larger LWRs for power generation. Light water reactors do produce plutonium as well, but it is less desirable for bomb production when operated in an electricity-production mode. However, the ELWR could be operated in a way that produces bomb-grade plutonium. It gives the North Koreans a good backup to the 5 MWe Reactor for plutonium production. If operated in such a mode, it could roughly double the plutonium production of the 5 MWe Reactor.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years that downplays the value of Yongbyon—saying it’s old and the facilities are obsolete. But from what you’re saying, it seems that it still plays a significant and critical role in North Korea’s ability to produce fissile material, even if it’s not the entirety of the fissile material program. Is that correct?
SH: Yes, this is what people need to understand. You shouldn’t just write off Yongbyon as old and obsolete. It isn’t. That’s quite apparent if you look at the amount of construction that’s occurred at Yongbyon since 2009 when the IAEA inspectors were expelled. They built a new centrifuge facility (the one they showed us), then doubled its size. They are building a new reactor. They built a new facility to make uranium hexafluoride needed for enrichment operations. They have built new fuel fabrication facilities and what appear to be new tritium separation facilities and more.
The 5 MWe Reactor has been operational since 1986. When I asked the director of Yongbyon how long he thought they could operate it, he replied for decades longer. They have recently experienced cooling problems with the reactor, and that is why it has likely not been operational since late 2018. The plutonium reprocessing facility has been operational since around 1990. It appears to be operational right now.
I can’t help but chuckle when people say Yongbyon is old. The TA-55 Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has produced the plutonium cores for the American stockpile the past couple of decades, was built in 1978. So, most of Yongbyon is newer than much of the Los Alamos lab.
The nuclear weapons and the missiles are not in Yongbyon. And there are nuclear weapon facilities outside the complex as well. The bombs are produced elsewhere and stored elsewhere. But Yongbyon is the heart of North Korea’s fissile materials production complex. All of its plutonium and its tritium have been and will continue to be produced there. It houses most of the chemical facilities, such as those that convert yellowcake from the mining complex to uranium hexafluoride, for uranium enrichment and around half of its centrifuge capacity. Whereas HEU could still be produced if Yongbyon is shut down, its production would be greatly curtailed.
In January, North Korea listed the development of tactical nuclear weapons as one of its WMD objectives for the coming years. Given your estimates of the country’s fissile material stockpile, how realistic is the goal of building tactical nuclear weapons?
SH: One problem in assessing this is that there is no single definition of what constitutes a tactical nuclear weapon. If one defines “tactical” as shorter-range and “strategic” as longer-range, then North Korea already has short-range tactical nuclear weapons. I believe that with their extensive record of short-range missile testing and their nuclear test history, they are already capable of putting nuclear warheads on short-range SCUD and medium-range Nodong ballistic missiles. In other words, they can already reach all of South Korea and most of Japan with nuclear-tipped missiles. These warheads are likely fueled with HEU. And, the North already has plenty of HEU for several dozen short-range tactical nuclear weapons.
However, some people use different measures to define tactical nuclear weapons—such as their purpose or yield. For example, low-yield nuclear weapons are often considered tactical. My greatest concern is that the North will develop tactical nuclear weapons for the purpose of battlefield use. That’s a direction Pakistan has taken to combat India’s great conventional military superiority. These could be artillery-fired nuclear projectiles and nuclear landmines. Do they have enough fissile material for battlefield nuclear weapons? Of course. Could they make a battlefield nuclear weapon? Yes, I believe they could.
However, these types of weapons raise an additional set of concerns. The first is safety. It is questionable that the North Koreans are able to engineer nuclear battlefield weapons that are “one-point safe”—that is, they detonate only by design rather than be subject to accidental detonation. Early US bombs were not one-point safe. It required sophisticated science and engineering to get there.
The second concern is security. Nuclear battlefield weapons require a pre-delegation of launch authority to commanders in the field. For example, Pakistan may pre-delegate such authority to the field in case the Indian military had crossed its border, and the only way to stop the invasion would be to blow up a battlefield nuclear weapon. It’s not hard to imagine the North Koreans drawing up similar plans. At the same time, tactical nuclear weapons are mostly dangerous to the North Koreans themselves, because they can accidentally blow up or be diverted in some fashion, which can lead to domestic disasters.
SEOUL, May 1 (Yonhap) — Top generals of South Korea and the United States discussed the regional security situation and Washington’s commitment to providing extended deterrence to Seoul, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Saturday.
During the talks held on Friday in Hawaii, JCS Chairman Gen. Won In-choul and his U.S. counterpart Gen. Mark Milley exchanged views on the regional security situation and reaffirmed their commitment to security and stability in the region, according to the JCS.
“They discussed the U.S.’ unwavering commitment to the Republic of Korea and the continued commitment to providing extended deterrence,” the JCS said in a statement.
Calling the Korea-U.S. alliance the “linchpin” of security and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, the chairmen vowed to maintain their Combined Forces’ “Fight Tonight” readiness posture, it added.
Won has been in Hawaii for a four-day stay since Friday to attend the change-of-command ceremony of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, as Adm. Phil Davidson will be replaced by Adm. John Aquilino, who currently serves as the commander of the Pacific Fleet.
On Friday, the two chairmen joined their Japanese counterpart, Gen. Koji Yamazaki, and discussed ways to enhance trilateral ties. During his stay, Won is also scheduled to meet other senior military officers to discuss bilateral issues, his office said.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Won In-choul (L) and his U.S. counterpart Gen. Mark Milley pose for a photo ahead of their talks in Hawaii on May 1, 2021, in this photo provided by Won’s office. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
SEOUL/WASHINGTON, April 29 (Yonhap) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden will hold their first summit talks in Washington on May 21, the allies announced Friday.
Moon is scheduled to visit the U.S. capital for the one-on-one summit to be held at the White House at Biden’s invitation, according to Chung Man-ho, senior Cheong Wa Dae secretary for public communication.
He said the leaders’ decision to hold an in-person summit despite the “difficult” situations attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the importance of the Seoul-Washington alliance.
Through the upcoming talks, the two sides are expected to reaffirm the strength of the alliance and further develop “comprehensive and reciprocal cooperation” and friendship between their leaders and people, Chung added in a statement.
In addition, Moon and Biden plan to have in-depth discussions on close coordination for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establishment of permanent peace, Chung said. Also among agenda items are “substantial” ties in the economy and trade and a joint response to such global challenges as climate change and the coronavirus.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) in a photo provided by Cheong Wa Dae and an Associated Press file photo of U.S. President Joe Biden (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
Seoul and Washington are still in consultations on the detailed itinerary of Moon’s trip, a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters on background.
He denied a news report that it has already been decided to include the sensitive issue of whether South Korea will join a regional security forum, called the Quad, in the list of agenda items. The U.S. is reportedly seeking to expand the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which currently has three other member states — Japan, India and Australia.
Seoul maintains the position that it can take part in such a regional security consultation format as long as it complies with the principles of “transparency, openness and inclusiveness” and it abides by international norms, he stressed on the customary condition of anonymity.
With regard to speculation on the possibility of Moon requesting Washington’s support for Seoul’s campaign to acquire additional coronavirus vaccines, the official said the two sides have yet to fine-tune the agenda items related to the pandemic.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki earlier made a related announcement, saying the planned summit will highlight the “ironclad” alliance between the two countries.
“President Biden looks forward to welcoming Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in to the White House on May 21,” Psaki said in a statement. “President Moon’s visit will highlight the ironclad alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and the broad and deep ties between our governments, people and economies.”
The countries earlier said the summit will be held in the second half of next month.
It will mark Biden’s second in-person summit with a foreign leader since he took office on Jan. 20.
“President Biden looks forward to working with President Moon to further strengthen our alliance and expand our close cooperation,” the statement said.
The U.S. has said the Moon-Biden summit will mark a milestone in Biden’s diplomatic and national security achievements in his first 100 days in office.
Moon’s visit to Washington will also come as the U.S. is conducting a review of its policy on North Korea.
In his first address to a joint session of Congress, Biden said he will work with allies to address “serious” nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran through “diplomacy” and “stern deterrence.”
SEOUL, April 30 (Yonhap) — The top uniformed officers of South Korea, the United States and Japan held talks in Hawaii and vowed to strengthen their trilateral cooperation amid concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Friday.
During the talks held Thursday (Hawaii time), South Korea’s JCS Chairman Gen. Won In-choul, Gen. Mark Milley of the U.S. and Gen. Koji Yamazaki of Japan shared concerns over the North’s nuclear and missiles programs and discussed the “importance of promoting a rules-based international order in the region,” according to the military.
Won stressed that the three countries’ cooperation is crucial for peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the Northeast Asia region, while Milley reaffirmed the U.S.’ “ironclad commitment” to defend its two allies.
Milley reaffirmed that “the U.S. remains prepared to provide extended deterrence guaranteed by the full spectrum of U.S. military capabilities,” JCS said.
Yamazaki underlined the importance of trilateral cooperation for the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“They agreed to continue working together to address mutual security issues and increase multilateral cooperation in order to enhance peace and stability in the region,” the military said in a release.
It was Won’s first face-to-face trilateral talks with Milley and Yamazaki since his inauguration in September last year. The three last met via a videoconference in November.
Thursday’s meeting was also attended by outgoing U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Commander Adm. Phil Davidson; his successor Adm. John Aquilino; and U.S. Forces Japan Commander Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider. U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams joined via a video link.
During his stay, Won is also scheduled to have separate talks with Milley and other senior U.S. military officials to enhance alliance cooperation and will return home Monday after attending the change-of-command ceremony of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii.
Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Gen. Won In-choul (2nd from R) poses for a photo with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Gen. Mark Milley (C) and Gen. Koji Yamazaki (2nd from L), along with outgoing U.S. Indo-Pacific Command commander Adm. Philip Davidson (1st from R) and his successor Adm. John Aquilino (1st from L) in Hawaii on April 29, 2021, in this photo provided by the military. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)