U.S, South Korea Postpone Wartime Control Transfer to 2015 Amid Tensions

South Korea agreed with the U.S. to delay a planned handover of “wartime control” in the event of a military conflict to Dec. 1, 2015, from April 2012 amid heightened tensions with North Korea.

South Korea’s presidential office announced on its website today that the agreement was reached at a meeting between South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and U.S. President Barack Obama in Toronto, Canada, on the sidelines of the summit of Group of 20 nations.

South Korea was scheduled to take over the right to control its forces in the event of a war in April 2012 under a 2007 agreement with the U.S. The U.S. had full control of South Korea’s forces during the 1950-53 Korean War and until 1994, when the Asian nation was given operational control during peacetime.

“The move underlines South Korea’s dependence on the U.S., which will result in greater U.S. influence on South Korea’s foreign policy,” said Kim Yong Hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “It will also make others doubt about the capabilities of South Korea’s military.”

South Korea has remained technically at war with North Korea since the war ended in a cease-fire that was never replaced by a peace treaty. South Korea’s 680,000-strong military faces off with as many as 1.2 million troops across the border in North Korea, which has built atomic bombs and long- range ballistic missiles.

Away From Border

The U.S. has about 28,500 troops in the South and is in the process of moving them away from the border.

The accord came after South Korea blamed North Korea for sinking the 1,200-ton Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 sailors. South Korea, backed by the U.S., is pushing for United Nations Security Council condemnation of North Korea.

China, which holds veto power on the Security Council, has refrained from criticizing Kim Jong Il’s regime for the attack. China, which fought on North Korea’s side during the war, is also the country’s largest trading partner and political ally.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eunkyung Seo in Seoul at eseo3@bloomberg.net; Bomi Lim in Seoul at blim30@bloomberg.net

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