SEOUL, South Korea, July 19, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here tonight for a visit intended to underscore the U.S. commitment to South Korea and provide framework for further strengthening the alliance between the two nations.
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 agenda items, they’re expected to finalize details for a series of military exercises to be conducted over the next several months, officials said.
The USS George Washington will arrive July 21 in Busan on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula for a port visit that will last until July 25. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters traveling with Gates that the port visit’s timing, in conjunction with the 2-plus-2 Talks, provides „a visual, tangible manifestation of our commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea.“
After the port visit, Morrell added, the George Washington will participate in the first of the U.S.-South Korean military exercises expected over the coming months. The George Washington is the U.S. Navy’s only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier. Three destroyers from its strike group also will visit South Korean ports this week. USS McCampbell and USS John S. McCain will visit Busan, and USS Lassen will visit Chinhae.
„Our presence here is a testament to the strength of our alliance and our constant readiness to defend the Republic of Korea,“ Navy Capt. David Lausman, the George Washington’s commanding officer, said in a written statement released by U.S. Forces Korea.
The 2-plus-2 Talks and the George Washington’s port visit come amid continuing world reaction to North Korea’s March 26 sinking of the frigate Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.
A senior Defense Department official speaking on background said last week that discouraging North Korea from continuing its aggressive behavior is part of the aim of Gates‘ visit and the exercises that will follow.
„We’re trying to send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea,“ the official said, „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 the G-20 Summit in Toronto last month.
„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.“
Gates also will participate in an observance of the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War during his visit.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)