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(2nd LD) Pentagon chief calls on N.K. to engage 'productively' in dialogue for denuclearization

All Headlines 14:27 June 03, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout; CHANGES photo)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan called on North Korea on Monday to engage "productively" in nuclear talks, stressing the "only acceptable end-state" is a complete, verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula.

The Pentagon chief made the remarks as Seoul and Washington strive to create fresh momentum for the resumption of negotiations with Pyongyang, which have been stalled since the no-deal summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February.

"As always, we're hopeful that the North Koreans will engage productively through diplomatic channels to resolve our concerns," he said in his opening remarks during talks with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in Seoul.

Shanahan reiterated Washington's will to stick to sanctions until Pyongyang fulfills its "international obligations."

"We stand united, firmly committed to the enforcement of all United Nations sanctions against North Korea until they comply with the international obligations," he said.

"The only acceptable end-state is complete, verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula. Our alliance and the international community will not seek a lesser solution," he added.

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (R) holds talks with Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan at the defense ministry in Seoul on June 3, 2019. (Yonhap)

The Hanoi summit broke down due to a failure to bridge gaps over the scope of Pyongyang's denuclearization and Washington's sanctions relief.

Amid the deadlock in the negotiations, the North has been escalating tensions by hardening its rhetoric and launching a fusillade of projectiles, including short-range missiles.

But both Washington and Pyongyang have signaled their desire to keep up dialogue.

Commenting on Seoul's efforts to retake wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington, Shanahan pointed to the "apparent, tremendous strides" that the allied forces have been taking for the transfer.

"When I think of an alliance, the word that comes to mind is trust, incredible trust between our countries forged in combat nearly 70 years ago. That trust endures this day," he said.

"This is also apparent, tremendous strides that the (allies') Combined Forces Command is taking to more rapidly fulfill conditions for the transition of wartime operational control from the U.S. commander to a South Korean commander," he added.

Jeong said that the allies will "more systematically and actively" push for cooperation related to the OPCON transition.

During the allies' combined command post exercise slated for August, they plan to test Seoul's initial operational capability (IOC) in a first step to verify whether Seoul is on course to meet the conditions required for the OPCON transition.

"The IOC assessment planned for the latter half of this year is the first verification to foster conditions in preparation for the OPCON transfer, and I expect that on that occasion, the defense authorities of the two countries will push for bilateral cooperation more systematically and actively," he said.

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.

Jeong also stressed that in the midst of the changing security environment, the combined defense posture will remain stronger than ever.

"Our South Korea-US alliance will evolve and develop in a more mature, stronger and mutually complementary manner," he said.

Shanahan struck a similar note.

"Amidst this ever-changing world, one thing remains unchanged: our iron-clad alliance is a linchpin of peace and security both on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," he said.

"Together, we'll continue to monitor challenges North Korea poses to our mutual safety," he added.

Monday's meeting between them was the second one 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.

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 paid a courtesy call on South Korean President Moon Jae-in, according to Moon's office.


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