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Presidential security aide says delay in OPCON transfer necessary

All Headlines 18:48 May 10, 2010

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- The head of South Korea's new presidential commission on national security said Monday the government should delay the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) of the country's troops from the U.S., scheduled for April 17, 2012.

Although he said it is his personal view, the remarks by Lee Sang-woo add to repeated calls by conservatives here to renegotiate the date.

"The OPCON should be transfered to us someday when we are capable of commanding a war independently. For now, however, it is right to delay the transition as (South Korea) is not ready yet partly because of the economic problem," he told Yonhap News Agency.

Lee has been appointed to lead the Commission for National Security Review, a 15-member ad hoc organization at Cheong Wa Dae that was created after the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship, allegedly due to a North Korean torpedo attack.

Composed of five civilian experts and 10 others with military backgrounds, it is tasked with reviewing South Korea's defense posture and mapping out reform measures.

Conservatives said the sinking incident shows it is premature for the South to regain wartime OPCON.

Lee said the OPCON issue is one of the biggest tasks of the new commission, hinting at a full-scale review on whether Seoul ought to get OPCON back from Washington. South Korea handed over its military command to the U.S. shortly after the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul regained its peacetime OPCON in 1994.

The planned wartime OPCON transition was agreed upon between the former governments of the allies.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak opposed the early transfer during his presidential campaign, but he has taken a cautious stance since taking office in early 2008. The U.S. Department of Defense has called for OPCON to be transfered as scheduled.

Lee's office officially said the agreement with the U.S. should be implemented in principle, but security conditions on the Korean Peninsula around the time of the transition also need to be considered.

Meanwhile, Lee Sang-woo, the chief of the presidential commission, said North Korea is a primary enemy of the South. Seoul discontinued describing Pyongyang as its main enemy in the biennial defense white paper in 2004, opting instead to portray the communist neighbor as a "direct military threat or existing military threat," apparently in a bid to not antagonize it.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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