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(Yonhap Interview) NATO seeks to improve partnership with S. Korea

All Headlines 17:19 November 15, 2012

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Nov. 15 (Yonhap) -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) wants to deepen military cooperation with South Korea in international missions and training to improve interoperability between the sides, a senior NATO official said Thursday.

Dirk Brengelmann, the NATO's assistant secretary general for political affairs and security, met with Seoul officials for an annual policy consultation, in which the two sides agreed to jointly develop the "Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program."

It aims to build greater collaboration in military education, training and exercises, and application of new technologies between partners.

"We have been increasing cooperation with South Korea over the last years. We want to make sure that we have the same level of interoperability with all partners in the future," Brengelmann said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

He spoke on the sidelines of the Seoul Defense Dialogue, a senior-level defense forum established by South Korea. Vice minister-level and other senior officials from 15 Asia-Pacific countries, the European Union and the NATO are attending the inaugural meeting set to run through Friday.

"So we now have a firm base for our cooperation," said Brengelmann, who is in charge of the NATO's international partnership relations. "Overall, in the future, training and education that includes exercises will become more important."

Although South Korea is not a member of the world's biggest military alliance, Brengelmann said the two sides have maintained close cooperation by conducting missions in such countries as Afghanistan and Somalia.

South Korea has stationed hundreds of troops to protect its civilian reconstruction workers in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led international security assistance force since mid-2010.

"I think it's fair to say that our South Korean partners did a very good job with their provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan," he said. "We're very grateful what has been done so far, and optimistic that more can be done in the future."

The official also encouraged Seoul to continue to make counter-piracy efforts through greater collaboration and partnership working with NATO members.

A Korean contingency has been conducting anti-piracy missions off Somalia since early 2009. In January 2011, Korean Navy commandos raided a South Korean freighter that had been hijacked by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea, rescuing all 21 crew members and killing eight pirates.

Brengelmann said recent reports of North Korea's preparation for a third nuclear test once again raised concerns that Pyongyang has not given up its hostile military policy under the new leader Kim Jong-un.

"The NATO takes the situation very seriously," he said, referring to its nuclear and missile tests in the past. "We have strong support for the position of South Korea."

Though the young leader has shown a different style from his father, Kim Jong-il, Brengelmann said it's too early to say there will be any meaningful changes in the near future.

"You see some signs of opening up more public presentations," he said. "But at the same time, it still sends very traditional common statements which don't indicate major changes."

The NATO official also urged the communist state to return to the multilateral disarmament talk "for its own interests" as well as peace and stability in Asia-Pacific region.

Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, sparking international outcry and economic sanctions on the reclusive state. Shortly after its second test, the North walked away from the multilateral talks, which also include South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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