On the issue of transferring wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said it will take time for South Korea to meet the conditions for the transfer.
His remarks show a gap between the two allies on the issue, as South Korea's Defense Minister Suh Wook called for a prompt transfer during his meeting with Esper in Washington on Wednesday.
"By assessing South Korea-U.S. efforts for the OPCON transfer and discussing plans, we will do our utmost to fulfill the conditions for an early OPCON transfer."
In their joint releases, the two sides said they have discussed the way forward for the wartime OPCON transition, including the Full Operational Capability certification.
"Seoul and Washington have shown some difference on the timing for a while now. The U.S. has been saying there needs to be thorough verification based on certain conditions. The allies couldn't do enough last time due to COVID-19."
Esper also said the U.S. would welcome increased defense spending by South Korea while their defense cost-sharing negotiations remain stalled.
This year, there was no mention of the U.S. commitment to maintaining its troop levels in South Korea in their joint releases.
Regarding that, an official from Seoul's defense ministry commented that it does not necessarily mean a cut in the number of the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
A joint press conference scheduled after the meeting was also canceled upon request by Washington.
"The fact that there was no mention of such a commitment by the U.S., which has been included in past releases, might indicate there are some signs of disaccord in the Seoul-Washington alliance. Though we don't know whether it's because of the stalled SMA negotiations, or the U.S. strategy to reallocate some of its troops in South Korea to the Southeast Asian Region."
During the meeting, the U.S. defense chief also touched upon the security issue in the Indo-Pacific region, apparently targeting the rise of China.
Esper also said the U.S. remains committed to the security of South Korea, saying North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain a serious threat to the security of the region and the world.
Yoon Jung-min, Arirang News.