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(LEAD) S. Korean, U.S. defense chiefs hold talks over N.K. nuclear, alliance issues

All Headlines 11:43 June 03, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES throughout)

SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States held talks in Seoul on Monday over North Korea's denuclearization and pending alliance issues, the defense ministry said.

Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan held their second bilateral meeting, following their first in Washington in April. A day earlier, they held trilateral talks with Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Singapore.

The agenda was expected to include cooperation on bringing the North back to the nuclear talks and the allies' plan to stage a combined exercise this summer during which they will test Seoul's capabilities to retake wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington.

The allies have been striving to resume nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang that have been stalled since the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February ended without a deal.

The Hanoi summit fell apart due to a failure to narrow gaps over the scope of Pyongyang's denuclearization and Washington's sanctions relief.

The two sides could also discuss a new combined command post exercise, slated for August, that will replace the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills as part of a reorganization of major exercises aimed at facilitating peace efforts.

During the exercise named 19-2 Dong Maeng, using the Korean word for "alliance," the allies will verify Seoul's initial operational capability (IOC) required for the OPCON transfer, after which the South will lead wartime operations, with the U.S. playing a supporting role.

The allies have agreed on a "conditions-based" OPCON transition. The conditions are the South's capabilities to lead the allies' combined defense mechanism, its capacity for initial responses to the North's nuclear and missile threats and a stable security environment on the peninsula and in the region.

The IOC verification is a first step to see if the South is on course to meet these conditions.

The wartime OPCON still remains in the hands of the U.S. after the South handed it over to the U.S.-led U.N. Command during the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul retook the peacetime OPCON in 1994.

The defense chiefs could also discuss the issue of relocating the allies' Combined Forces Command (CFC) headquarters currently in Yongsan Garrison, central Seoul.

The two sides had initially planned to move the CFC to the defense ministry compound in Seoul. But the U.S. has reportedly proposed moving it to Camp Humphreys, a sprawling U.S. military complex in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul.

Another possible agenda item is the issue of permanently installing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in Seongju in the southeast of the country. Pending an environmental assessment, the THAAD equipment has been there stationed "temporarily" since 2017.

Shanahan arrived in Seoul from Singapore on Sunday for a two-day visit as part of his four-nation trip to Asia.

Following the talks, Shanahan plans to pay a courtesy call on South Korean President Moon Jae-in, according to Moon's office.

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (L) and acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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