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Defense chiefs' talks between S. Korea, U.S., Japan unlikely this month: sources

Defense 14:01 August 21, 2020

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Aug. 21 (Yonhap) -- The United States has proposed talks among the defense ministers of the U.S., South Korea and Japan in Guam later this month, but the meeting is unlikely to take place due to the coronavirus pandemic, sources said Friday.

Discussions are under way on when and how to hold a trilateral defense chiefs' meeting, after the annual security forum of the Shangri-La Dialogue, where the three sides had gathered together, was cancelled due to COVID-19. The forum was initially supposed to be held in June in Singapore.

The three countries then agreed to push for videoconference talks but no such talk has taken place so far.

"South Korea has proposed diverse options regarding a trilateral meeting. But the three sides were unable to arrange the schedule," a Seoul source said.

The U.S. recently proposed a gathering in Guam on Aug. 29, but it seems to be "not a plausible option for South Korean Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo to make an overseas trip given the worsening domestic COVID-19 situation," he added.

South Korea has called for all-out efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, as it has seen a drastic surge in new virus cases since last week.

"We've had close consultations with the U.S. and the Japanese side since May for trilateral defense ministers' talks under the notion that South Korea-U.S.-Japan security cooperation is crucial," Seoul's defense ministry said in a statement.

"Due to COVID-19 and different schedules of the three chiefs, however, we've yet to fix the schedule. Discussions are under way," it added.

The Pentagon earlier said that U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper will travel to Palau, Hawaii and Guam next week. According to Japan's Kyodo news, Esper is arranging talks with Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono on Aug. 29.

The top defense officials of Seoul, Washington and Tokyo last met in November 2019 in Bangkok on the sidelines of the 6th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (C) holds the hands of South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (L) and his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, ahead of their trilateral talks in Bangkok on Nov. 17, 2019. (Yonhap)


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