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Pentagon chief to visit South Korea this week for annual security talks

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Seoul this week for annual defense talks with his South Korean counterpart on the planned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON), North Korean threats, cybersecurity and other issues, Seoul officials said.

Austin is due to leave for South Korea on Tuesday (Washington time) to attend the 53rd Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) scheduled for Thursday. This is the first SCM between Seoul Defense Minister Suh Wook and Austin since administration Joe Biden took office in January.

The SCM comes as Seoul and Washington step up coordination to resume nuclear diplomacy with North Korea, despite indications Pyongyang is doubling its nuclear and missile programs.

The wartime OPCON transition based on conditions, after which a four-star South Korean general is to lead the combined wartime Allied forces is high on the agenda. Currently, the United States has the OPCON in wartime, while the South has the OPCON in peacetime.

The two sides are expected to discuss when and how they will conduct the full operational capability (FOC) test of the three-step program designed to verify South Korea’s capabilities required for the OPCON transfer.

In 2019, the allies completed the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) test. But they have not yet completed the FOC test, the second part of the verification program. The Complete Mission Ability Test (FMC) is the last part of the program.

Discussions among allies over the FOC test took place in a “very friendly” atmosphere, a Seoul official said last week – remarks that raised hopes for progress in related consultations between the two sides.

Suh and Austin also plan to discuss ways to strengthen cybersecurity cooperation, including the resumption of the “Cyber ​​Cooperation Task Force” – a device the allies agreed to form years ago but didn’t. has not yet been fully activated due to administrative and other issues.

Space cooperation is another key topic, as Washington has sought to rally its allies and partners to promote the safe and sustainable use of space amid signs of an arms race in the new realm of security.

In addition, the minister and secretary plan to discuss ways to support the ongoing diplomacy to encourage the return of the Pyongyang dialogue and put stalled efforts for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula back on track.

At the SCM, the two sides are also expected to address the on-going process of returning US military bases to Yongsan garrison in central Seoul to ensure Seoul’s mega-project to build a national park can proceed. as expected.

In a press release last week, the Pentagon said that at SCM, “both sides should commit to continuing to develop the alliance – the keystone of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia – in a spirit of mutual reinforcement and forward-looking. “

Aside from Suh and Austin, the SCM will also be assisted by the most senior allied defense officials, including the Seoul Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Won In-choul and his American counterpart, General Mark. Milley, as well as Admiral John C Aquilino, head of US Indo-Pacific Command, and Paul LaCamera, head of US forces in Korea.

On the eve of the SCM, Gen. Won and Gen. Milley will also meet for the 46th Military Committee Meeting to discuss North Korea-related security situations and the defense posture of Allied forces.

Also on Wednesday, Suh and Austin will attend an annual alliance dinner hosted by the Korea-US Alliance Foundation and the Korea Defense Veterans Association. (Yonhap)