US, South Korea defence chiefs discuss war-time command, North Korea

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (left) shakes hands with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min Koo during the 47th Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (left) shakes hands with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min Koo during the 47th Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - The US and South Korean defence chiefs met in Seoul on Monday (Nov 3) in an annual review of their bilateral ties, and to discuss operational command of their joint forces in case tensions with North Korea escalate into a war.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter's consultations with South Korean Defence Minister Han Min Koo come two months after North and South Korea resolved a military stand-off that had threatened to escalate into live conflict.

Besides fleshing out conditions for transferring wartime command of their overall combined forces, the talks will also include cyber defence and the trilateral relationship between the United States, South Korea, and Japan, a senior US defence official told reporters prior to the meeting.

The United States, which has around 28,500 military personnel stationed in South Korea, agreed last year to delay a shift of command of their overall combined forces to South Korea in case of a war until Seoul has better capabilities to counter the kinds of nuclear weapons and missile threats posed by the North.

Conditions for the transfer would include better intelligence "and other things that would make the transition of operational control to the South Koreans have no effect except a strengthening effect on our ability to respond to aggressions", Mr Carter told reporters on Sunday. "I hope we make a lot of progress on that over the next day."

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and head of US Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris will also join the discussions.

The United States and South Korea were also set to review the recent crisis with the North, in which a landmine explosion injuring two South Korean soldiers, the South's broadcast of anti-Pyongyang propaganda, and an exchange of artillery fire across the demilitarised zone (DMZ) ratcheted up tensions.

North Korea denies planting the landmines, but it issued a rare statement of regret for the South Korean soldiers' injuries. North and South Korea remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War was ended only by a truce.

Mr Carter visited the DMZ on Sunday shortly after landing at Osan Air Base south of Seoul.