New defense minister pushing to visit U.S. next month for first talks with Esper: officials
By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- Defense Minister Suh Wook is likely to visit the United States next month for his first talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, officials said Wednesday.
Discussions are under way with the U.S. about the new minister traveling to Washington for annual defense ministers' talks between the two countries, known as the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), defense ministry officials said.
The visit, if realized, will also be Suh's first overseas trip since taking office last week to replace Jeong Kyeong-doo as defense chief. It will also be the first time for a South Korean defense minister to visit a foreign country since February due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korea and the U.S. have held SCM talks around October every year to discuss defense issues between the two countries, including threats from North Korea and the envisioned transfer of the wartime operational control of South Korean forces from Washington to Seoul.
The meeting is held alternately in each country, and it's the U.S. turn to host this year's meeting.
"We are preparing for Suh's trip to the U.S. as one option," a defense ministry official said, noting the meeting is likely to take place around late October.
"Consultations are under way with the U.S. side, and we are closely monitoring the coronavirus situation and other factors," he added.
The last bilateral meeting between the defense chiefs of the two countries was held by videoconference in July.
Amid the pandemic, the defense ministry is eyeing an option to use the country's KC-330 air refueling tanker for Suh's trip, rather than a commercial plane, another official said.
During the upcoming talks, the two sides are expected to discuss key pending issues, including how to strengthen their combined defense posture to militarily support peace efforts involving North Korea and their push for the OPCON transfer.
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