Seoul and Washington have shown differences of opinion in a set of critical issues concerning their security alliance i.e. wartime operational control transition plan, cost-sharing scheme and the maintenance of U.S. forces in Korea, with the U.S. refusing to include the phrase of “maintaining the current level of the U.S. military personnel in the ROK” in the joint communique of ROK-US Security Consultative Meeting (SCM). As to Seoul’s push for an early transition of wartime operational control, Washington expressed concern, claiming such a measure could “jeopardize the peoples and the soldiers of both countries,” practically rejecting the proposal within the remaining term of President Moon Jae-in (May 2022). Some pundits say the relationship between the two allies, which showed signs of swerving following the latest remarks of Korean Ambassador to U.S. Lee Soo-hyuck, is showing its true face.
In the joint communiqué, which was announced by South Korean Defense Minister Seo Wook and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the phrase vowing to “reaffirm the commitment to maintain the current level of the U.S. military personnel in the ROK and to enhance combat readiness” is missing. While South Korea’s Defense Ministry dismissed it as nonissue, Secretary Esper called for a swift conclusion of talks with Seoul for the “stable stationing” of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula, stressing that “the burden of sharing the costs of defense should not fall unequally on the American taxpayers.” It was a strong expression of Washington’s policy direction to pressure Seoul to bear more costs for the U.S. forces in Korea.
It has been belatedly confirmed that Seo Hoon, the director of the National Security Office, Seoul’s diplomatic control tower, is making a covert visit to the U.S. The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has delegated Mr. Seo, who is reputed to be a dovish, on a fence-mending mission with Washington. “At the invitation of the White House, Director Seo paid a visit to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday and had a meeting with U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien for a discussion of mutual interests including our bilateral relations,” said presidential spokesperson Kang Min-seok. On Thursday, Mr. Seo met with Mike Pompeo, the state secretary of the United States.