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(2nd LD) Seoul, Washington to discuss stronger alliance amid growing N.K. threats

All News 22:50 October 11, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS paras 1-6; UPDATES with U.S. statement; ADDS to dateline)

SEOUL/WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States will hold high-level security talks next week that will bring together their top diplomats and defense chiefs in an effort to reaffirm their alliance and discuss strategies to deal with growing threats from North Korea.

The "two plus two" talks, set for Oct. 19 in Washington, will take place amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of the North's fifth nuclear test as well as fears that the communist regime could undertake yet additional provocations.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Defense Minister Han Min-koo will join U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter in the talks to discuss a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues, including the North's increasing nuclear and missile threats, the South said.

"The ministers will ensure the two countries' ironclad alliance against provocations by the North and come up with a Joint Statement after the group meetings," Seoul's foreign and defense ministry said in a joint statement. The two sides are also expected to talk about stronger sanctions on Pyongyang and an extended deterrence, it said.

In Washington, the State Department said that the ministers will "explore opportunities to further coordinate our response to the growing threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the wake of its Sept. 9 nuclear test and discuss ways to strengthen the U.S.-ROK Alliance, including through extended deterrence."

They will also discuss a range of other pressing regional and global priorities, it said.

Washington's extended deterrence refers to the stated U.S. commitment to mobilize all military assets, both nuclear and conventional, to defend its allies in a crisis. At stake is how to flesh it out to make sure that it actually works in contingencies, security experts said.

(2nd LD) Seoul, Washington to discuss stronger alliance amid growing N.K. threats - 1

The two-plus-two meeting has been held biennially since its first gathering took place in July 2010. It has served as an important consultative channel between the allies to discuss diplomatic and security issues.

In Washington D.C. on Oct. 20, the two defense ministers will have a separate Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) to discuss measures to defend the Asian ally and about 28,500 American troops stationed on the peninsula against the North's military threats, Seoul's defense ministry said.

Other agenda items for the annual meeting include the planned deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea by 2017 and a conditional transfer from Washington to Seoul of Operational Control (OPCON), or the wartime operational control of South Korea's military, it said.

Under their current alliance, a U.S. commander will exercise control over South Korean troops in the event of a war with North Korea. The two sides originally planned to transfer OPCON to Seoul in December 2015 but later postponed the move to an unspecified date in the mid-2020s.

The decision to deploy a THAAD battery came in July, months after the North's fourth nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch the following month provided a strong impetus for the allies to move ahead with formal discussions about the potential placement of THAAD in the South.

As its latest provocations, Pyongyang conducted its fifth nuclear test and launched three ballistic missiles last month, raising worries that the rogue regime is close to achieving its stated goal of developing a long-range nuclear missile that could hit the U.S. mainland.


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