South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Lim Kwan-bin, right, shakes hands with his US counterpart, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia David Helvey, on July 30 in Seoul. (AFP)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — South Korea and the United States held high-level military talks Monday to fix a new timetable for the postponed transfer to Seoul of wartime operational command over its own troops.
It was the first in a series of monthly discussions aimed at agreeing a transfer schedule that can be announced in October at their annual security summit in Washington, the South’s defense ministry said.
Under a bilateral military accord signed during the 1950-53 Korean War, the United States currently retains operational command of joint US-South Korean forces in the event of a full-scale conflict with North Korea.
Peacetime control was returned to the South in 1994, and the transfer of wartime command was originally set for 2012.
At Seoul’s request, that deadline was extended to 2015 but the South then insisted on a further postponement, citing the increased threat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Leading Monday’s talks were David Helvey, the US deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, and his South Korean counterpart Ryu Je-Seung.
Because the Korean conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty, the two Koreas are still technically at war.
South Korea is protected by the US nuclear umbrella and there are currently nearly 30,000 US troops stationed in the country.
If fresh hostilities broke out, the US commander in South Korea would also assume control of the South’s 640,000 troops.