(ATTN: RECASTS lead; UPDATES throughout)
SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) -- The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States will hold talks in Washington early next month over the security situation on the peninsula and pending issues, Seoul's defense ministry said Monday.
The talks between Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan are expected to touch on such issues as the allies' combined military exercises later this year and the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON).
"(Seoul) will continue to strengthen the South Korea-U.S. alliance, which is the foundation for our efforts for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of peace," Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said during his ministry's policy briefing to the National Assembly's defense committee.
Jeong and Shanahan are expected to evaluate the countries' latest Dong Maeng exercise, which replaced the springtime Key Resolve command post exercise under an alliance decision to back diplomacy with North Korea. Dong Maeng is the Korean word for alliance.
They are also likely to discuss the allies' plan to verify Seoul's initial operational capability (IOC) required for the OPCON transition. The IOC certification process is set to occur during their combined command post exercise slated for August.
The allies are pushing for the "conditions-based" OPCON transfer after which the South will lead wartime operations, with the U.S. playing a supporting role.
"Our military will prepare systematically for the OPCON transition while maintaining a firm defense posture," Jeong said.
Aside from next month's talks, their defense chiefs are set to meet at an annual multinational meeting of defense chiefs in Singapore in June and their annual Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul in October.
The allies' defense authorities are set to hold the Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue, biannual working-level talks, next month and in September.
Also during the parliamentary session, the defense ministry said it will seek to enhance its military ties with China and Japan that have chilled over the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system on the peninsula and a naval spat, respectively.
It plans to hold defense-ministerial talks with China in May for the first time in 19 months. Defense exchanges between Seoul and Beijing have been stalled since July 2016, when Seoul and Washington announced their plan to install a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery in South Korea.
Ahead of the ministerial talks, South Korea's Army chief of staff, Gen. Kim Yong-woo, plans to visit China this month. In April, Seoul will also hold a ceremony repatriating the remains of Chinese troops killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Seoul also appears poised to enhance defense ties with Tokyo after they were embroiled in a military spat triggered by Japan's claim that a South Korean warship locked fire-control radar on its maritime patrol aircraft in December.
This month, South Korea plans to hold Army talks with Japan, which will be followed by trilateral security talks among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.
To create a fresh momentum for the enforcement of last year's inter-Korean military accord, Seoul seeks to hold general-grade or working-level military talks with Pyongyang "sooner or later," the ministry said.
Concerns have lingered that Seoul's push to implement the accord aimed at reducing border tensions and preventing accidental clashes could lose steam in the wake of the unfruitful summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi last month.
The accord entails a series of confidence-building and arms control measures, including removing some border guard posts and setting up ground, air and maritime buffer zones. Seoul seeks to launch discussions with Pyongyang over the possible removal of all guard posts inside the Demilitarized Zone.
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