Defense chiefs of the United States and South Korea pledged Thursday to tighten security readiness in a peaceful manner under the common goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
“If North Korea continues to take action to realize its pledge for denuclearization, Seoul and Washington will come up with measures to show peace and trust to Pyongyang,” Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo said during talks with his U.S. counterpart James Mattis.
The meeting comes at a time when inter-Korean relations are showing signs of a rapid thaw, with the regime’s young leader Kim Jong-un pledging to scrap his nuclear arsenal.
In a show of his willingness to denuclearize the peninsula, he has in recent months made unexpected public appearances _ holding summits with President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump.Earlier this month, Seoul and Washington decided to suspend the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military exercise scheduled for autumn in response to Kim’s rare peace gestures.
Mattis also spoke highly of the bilateral decision to suspend the drill, pledging to fulfill a shared goal for peace here.
“The recent decision to suspend the exercise creates an increased opportunity for our diplomats to negotiate, increasing the prospects for a peaceful solution on the peninsula,” the U.S. defense secretary said.
The two defense chiefs talked about details for follow-up measures to realize agreements made at the historic June 12 Washington-Pyongyang summit.
But they said announcements about any possible shift in the schedule and size of other upcoming drills, such as whether to suspend them, would be made after taking into account how sincerely the North engages in peace and denuclearization talks with the South and the U.S.
Mattis also said Washington has no plans to downsize the U.S. Forces Korea, at least for the time being.
“We are reinforced by shared democratic values and by common security interests,” Mattis said. “The U.S. commitment to South Korea remains ironclad and the U.S. will continue to use a full range of diplomatic and military capabilities to uphold this commitment. This includes maintaining the current U.S. forces levels on the peninsula.”
During the meeting, both sides also agreed to step up cooperation for South Korea’s stable and early takeover of wartime operational control (OPCON) of its troops in wartime from the U.S.
“The two ministers reached a consensus to enhance their countries’ partnership to meet conditions for the OPCON transfer as early as possible,” a joint statement released after the meeting stated.
This marks the third time this year the defense chiefs of the two countries have held ministerial talks.
Despite the latest peace momentum on the peninsula, Song and Mattis also pledged to enhance the Seoul-Washing alliance by communicating closely with each other.
Song said South Korea and the U.S. will do their best to turn the golden opportunity into lasting peace and prosperity for the world.
“Under the shared goal between both sides, Seoul and Washington will continue tightening the close military alliance,” Song said.
Source – The Korea Times