USA/South Korea — Gates Plans Visit to South Korea for ‘2‑plus‑2 Talks’

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2010 — Send­ing North Korea a strong mes­sage of deter­rence and under­scor­ing the strength of the U.S.-South Kore­an alliance are key aims of an upcom­ing vis­it to South Korea by Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, Pen­ta­gon offi­cials said here yes­ter­day.

Gates leaves this week­end for a vis­it that will include high-lev­el talks with South Kore­an offi­cials and a com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 60th anniver­sary of the start of the Kore­an War, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell said.

Gates and Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton will meet with their South Kore­an coun­ter­parts in the first “2‑plus‑2 Talks” between the two nations. Among oth­er top­ics, Mor­rell said, they will dis­cuss upcom­ing mil­i­tary exer­cis­es involv­ing U.S. and South Kore­an forces.

The vis­it and the dis­cus­sion of mil­i­tary exer­cis­es come as world reac­tion con­tin­ues to North Korea’s March 26 sink­ing of the frigate Cheo­nan, which killed 46 South Kore­an sailors. “There are a num­ber of mes­sages that we’re try­ing to send,” a senior Defense Depart­ment offi­cial speak­ing on back­ground said. “We’re try­ing to send a clear mes­sage of deter­rence to North Korea, which we hope will have an effect of impress­ing upon them that they need to recon­sid­er the sort of behav­ior they’ve been engaged in, includ­ing the Cheo­nan [inci­dent]. We’re also seek­ing to work with [South Korea] to increase and enhance the alliance’s capa­bil­i­ties — readi­ness, flex­i­bil­i­ty and our oper­a­tional capac­i­ty. So I think there’s a real pur­pose to these exer­cis­es.”

Also on the agen­da for the talks is the trans­fer of wartime oper­a­tional con­trol of forces on the Kore­an penin­su­la to the South Kore­an mil­i­tary by Decem­ber 2015. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and South Kore­an Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak announced a delay in that trans­fer – orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled for April 2012 – after they met dur­ing June’s G‑20 Sum­mit in Toron­to. “This gives us appro­pri­ate time … with­in the exist­ing secu­ri­ty con­text to do this right,” Oba­ma said in Toron­to, “because this alliance is the linch­pin of not only secu­ri­ty for the Repub­lic of Korea and the Unit­ed States, but also for the Pacif­ic as a whole.”

The senior defense offi­cial explained that the new tar­get date allows time to “syn­chro­nize all of the dif­fer­ent mov­ing pieces” of the oper­a­tional con­trol trans­fer.

“If we had gone for­ward with the April 2012 date, [South Korea] would have been ful­ly mil­i­tar­i­ly pre­pared to take over wartime oper­a­tional con­trol at that point,” the offi­cial said. “But we have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do an even bet­ter job, and to make sure that all of the dif­fer­ent pieces that are asso­ci­at­ed with the [oper­a­tional con­trol] tran­si­tion and with our secu­ri­ty and defense rela­tion­ship are locked up.”

With both Gates and Clin­ton on hand to meet with their South Kore­an coun­ter­parts, the offi­cial added, the for­mat pro­vides for high-lev­el dis­cus­sions of not only the mil­i­tary alliance, but also the diplo­mat­ic and eco­nom­ic rela­tion­ships between the two coun­tries.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)