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U.S. Expects Agreement on Korean Wartime Control of Forces

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2006 – U.S. Defense officials expect an agreement at the upcoming U.S.-Korean Security Consultative Meeting on the process of turning over operational control of Korean forces in wartime to South Korea.

Currently, South Korean forces come under command of the Combined Forces Korea.

Richard Lawless, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, said in a news conference today that by Oct. 20, the start of the talks, U.S. and Korean negotiators will finalize the plan.

The meetings, held yearly, will be an opportunity for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and South Korean Minister of National Defense Yoon Kwang-woong to reaffirm the U.S.-South Korean alliance, Lawless said.

President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed to the basics of the plan when they met in September.

Underlying the move to give operational control to the Republic of Korea is how the country has developed economically, politically and militarily, Lawless said. The South Korean military already bears the lion’s share of defense for the nation, he said.

The United States proposes moving from a “supported force” to a “supporting force.” In other words, land defense for South Korea would be the responsibility of the South Korean military – a force Lawless said is perfectly able to handle the threat from North Korea.

“It is a reflection of the incredibly robust capabilities of the Republic of Korea itself,” Lawless said. “We’re not talking just about military capabilities, but the fact that the military has behind it the infrastructure and strength of the entire Republic of Korea economy.

“The place that the Republic of Korea has arrived at today underlines the fact that this is a mature relationship and one in which the Republic of Korea should be very comfortable in assuming the lead responsibility for the conventional defense of the country,” he continued. “It’s a natural progression, and it is something that both nations believe whose time has come.”

The two nations have been discussing the possibility for 20 years, the deputy assistant secretary said. South Korea has two full armies in the Demilitarized Zone. U.S. forces will shift to other parts of the peninsula.

All this will happen without a lessening of American commitment to the Republic of Korea, Lawless said.

The main difference between the U.S. and South Korea goals for the new arrangement boils down to timing. The United States would like the Koreans to assume wartime control of their forces in 2009. The Koreans would like it to be 2012.

The United States would like to take the existing Combined Forces Korea structure and morph it into one with the Koreans in the lead. The Koreans would like more time to develop more capabilities before taking control. Lawless said the positions are not that far apart and should be resolved in time for the consultative meeting.

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