Defense minister visits US to discuss military buildup
Defense Minister Song Young-moo left for the United States Tuesday for talks with U.S. officials on North Korean matters and other pending bilateral issues.
Song’s tour to the U.S. comes amid heightened military tension following the North’s missile provocation earlier in the day in which it launched what was presumed to be an intermediate ballistic missile (IRBM) over Japan.
Song is scheduled to hold a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, Wednesday, according to the Ministry of National Defense.
During his five-day visit, the South Korean official will also meet with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and the Commander of the Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, the ministry added.
“I strongly condemn North Korea’s reckless provocation that raises tension on the Korean Peninsula,” Song said at the Incheon International Airport. “I came to the airport after attending a National Security Council session at Cheong Wa Dae Tuesday morning.
I will discuss relevant counter- measures with the U.S. defense chief and the national security adviser.”
The ministry said the bilateral meeting between the defense chiefs of the two nations has been achieved at the request of South Korea amid evolving threats from the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
During the meeting, Song is expected to ask the U.S. government to support South Korea’s move to amend the two countries’ 2012 revision of missile guidelines. Through the amendment, Seoul is seeking to increase the weight of the warhead for its 800-kilometer range ballistic missile as the 2012 revision does not allow the payload for this missile to exceed 500 kilograms.
The South Korean government was originally seeking to double the maximum weight of the warhead to 1 ton, but this plan has been changed to remove limits on the payload of the missile, according to military officials.
As part of the efforts to bolster the defense capabilities, Song is also expected to mention the need to build the nation’s own nuclear-powered submarines to better counter threats from North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Building such submarines was one of President Moon Jae-in’s election pledges, but it remains unclear whether the United States supports this. A nuclear cooperation deal between Seoul and Washington allows South Korea to enrich uranium to a level of 20 percent when using U.S. materials, but disallows uranium enrichment for military purposes.
Other agenda issues would include a timeline for Seoul to take back wartime operational control (OPCON) of South Korean forces from the U.S. and the ongoing deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system on the Korean Peninsula.
Song Young-moo Jim Mattis