USA/South Korea — Seoul Meetings Emphasize Strength of U.S., South Korean Pact

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, July 20, 2010 — In 1950, the Unit­ed States and many oth­er coun­tries of the Unit­ed Nations came to the defense of South Korea when North Korea invad­ed. The meet­ings in Seoul begin­ning tomor­row are a reaf­fir­ma­tion of U.S. com­mit­ment to the Repub­lic of Korea, said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen.

The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters trav­el­ing with him that the “Two-plus-Two” meet­ings between the sec­re­taries of State and Defense and the min­is­ters of For­eign Affairs and Nation­al Defense re-empha­size the secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and South Korea.

Mullen and Navy Adm Robert F. Willard will par­tic­i­pate in the dis­cus­sions, and pro­vide their mil­i­tary advice to the civil­ian lead­ers. Their South Kore­an coun­ter­parts – led by Gen. Han Min-yu – will do the same for ROK gov­ern­ment lead­ers. “I think it is an extreme­ly impor­tant reaf­fir­ma­tion of the alliance on the 60th anniver­sary of the start of the Kore­an War,” Mullen said.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is the March sink­ing of the South Kore­an frigate Cheo­nan off the west coast of the penin­su­la. An inde­pen­dent review team con­clud­ed that a North Kore­an ves­sel fired a tor­pe­do that sank the ship and killed 46 ROK sailors.

This lat­est inci­dent con­tin­ues a his­to­ry of provoca­tive acts by North Korea. North­ern lead­ers have ordered assas­si­na­tions, kid­nap­pings, raids across the DMZ, and any num­ber of oth­er acts since the armistice end­ing the fight­ing in 1953.

North Korea has devel­oped a nuclear capa­bil­i­ty and the mis­sile capa­bil­i­ty to deliv­er it. North Korea main­tains a mil­i­tary in excess of 1.5 mil­lion, and has thou­sands of artillery tubes and mis­siles point­ed at – and in range of – Seoul, which is one of the largest and most pros­per­ous cities in the world.

The dis­cus­sions in Seoul will be more than sim­ply mil­i­tary talks, senior defense offi­cials said. The lead­ers will dis­cuss the full range of for­eign and secu­ri­ty issues con­fronting the region.

On the mil­i­tary side, the Two-plus-Two will be dis­cus­sions of joint U.S.-ROK mil­i­tary exer­cis­es. Lead­ers will also dis­cuss the exten­sion of the date for pass­ing wartime con­trol to South Kore­an forces. The tran­si­tion was sup­posed to be com­plete in April 2012. It will now hap­pen in Decem­ber 2015.

Mullen said the lead­ers will con­tin­ue to work togeth­er both in exer­cis­es and oper­a­tions. “This is a real­ly crit­i­cal part of the world, and cer­tain­ly if you have an inci­dent like Cheo­nan and a coun­try like North Korea, you wor­ry a great deal about what else could hap­pen here,” he said. “We will con­tin­ue with our strong rela­tion­ship and con­tin­ue to work with the Kore­an mil­i­tary as we have over decades.”

The chair­man praised diplo­mats across the spec­trum for the U.S. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion on the Cheo­nan. “There is nobody – the Unit­ed States or those who live in the region – who want any kind of con­flict to break out,” the admi­ral said.

The spe­cif­ic act of the sink­ing of Cheo­nan and killing 46 sailors “is just com­plete­ly unac­cept­able,” Mullen said. “It does­n’t meet any kind of inter­na­tion­al norm and that behav­ior isn’t going to be tol­er­at­ed.”

Still, the chair­man said he will not under­es­ti­mate North Kore­an capa­bil­i­ties. “The size of the force and its prox­im­i­ty to Seoul make it dan­ger­ous,” Mullen said. “It’s got an unpre­dictable lead­er­ship, and that’s indica­tive in what hap­pened to Cheo­nan.”

The U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion – with the agree­ment of Chi­na and Rus­sia – sends North Kore­an lead­ers the mes­sage that no coun­try sup­ports them. U.S. and South Kore­an forces will con­duct joint exer­cis­es off both the east and west coasts of the penin­su­la. The intent of the exer­cis­es is to improve sta­bil­i­ty in the region and improve inter­op­er­abil­i­ty. It also sends the mes­sage to the North that the South Kore­an mil­i­tary is a pow­er­ful force on its own , and that the nation is a treaty ally of the most pow­er­ful and com­bat-proven force in the world today.

The U.S. and South Kore­ans exer­cise rou­tine­ly in the waters off the penin­su­la. The Sea of Japan and the Yel­low Sea are inter­na­tion­al waters and the Unit­ed States will use them as such, Mullen said.

The Two-plus-Two will begin with a cer­e­mo­ny at the Kore­an War Memo­r­i­al in Seoul. There will be a moment of silence for the 46 sailors killed aboard the Cheo­nan. Lead­ers will also remem­ber the more than 32,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers who died in the war. Since 1953, the Unit­ed States has main­tained troops on the penin­su­la. There are cur­rent­ly 28,500 U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers in South Korea.

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