By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, May 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States have agreed to push for a trilateral defense ministerial meeting with Japan, the defense ministry said Friday.
The three-way cooperation was one of the key agenda items for the 19th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD) held in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday, along with North Korea and other security issues.
"The two sides reaffirmed a continued commitment to trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, and agreed to push for a defense ministerial meeting between the three countries in the near future to promote cooperation," the ministry said in a joint release.
The defense chiefs' meeting could take place as early as next month as the three ministers are expected to gather in Singapore to take part in the annual security forum of the Shangri-La Dialogue slated for June 4-5.
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).
The push comes as Seoul seeks to improve bilateral relations with Tokyo strained over a string of historical issues. On Wednesday, South Korea's intelligence chief, Park Jie-won, met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and delivered President Moon Jae-in's message expressing hope to normalize ties.
This week's meeting, the first of its kind under the Joe Biden administration, also came as Washington completed a review of its policy on the North. Pyongyang has been ramping up rhetoric against the U.S. and South Korea, while rejecting dialogue offers.
They shared their assessment on North Korea's nuclear and missile threats and agreed to closely cooperate while keeping a close watch on the North's activities.
"During the meeting, the two sides reaffirmed the shared goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a lasting peace," the release said.
The U.S. vowed to provide extended deterrence guaranteed by the full spectrum of U.S. military capabilities to defend South Korea, while the South pledged to continue beefing up its capabilities to better respond to the North's threats.
They said the South Korea-U.S. alliance is the "linchpin" of the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asia region and agreed on the importance of maintaining a combined defense posture through joint training, the ministry said.
On the transition of the wartime operational control (OPCON) of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul, the two sides agreed that considerable progress was made in preparation for the transfer and discussed plans for a Full Operational Capability (FOC) test, according to the ministry.
The FOC test, a crucial step for the conditions-based transition, was supposed to be held last year as part of combined training, but Seoul and Washington failed to do so amid the COVID-19 situation.
They also agreed to "actively discuss" South Korea's plans to secure core military capabilities necessary for the transition, the ministry said.
The two-day meeting was attended by Deputy Defense Minister Kim Man-ki and David Helvey, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs, as the representatives of their countries.
Launched in 2011, KIDD is a regular defense meeting between Seoul and Washington that integrates a set of consultative mechanisms, such as the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee and the Security Policy Initiative.
The next meeting will be held in Seoul in the second half of the year.
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